Australia v West Indies, 4th match, Champions Trophy October 17, 2006

Australia taking nothing for granted



Shane Watson or Simon Katich as opener? Australia, typically, face a problem of plenty © Getty Images

The big boys of the tournament, Australia, get their first outing in the Champions Trophy when they take on West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. It has been hard going for the batsmen on two slow pitches, and there's no reason to believe it will be any different on Wednesday. When speaking to the media ahead of the game both Brian Lara, the West Indian captain, and his counterpart Ricky Ponting, stressed on the fact that that the team playing better cricket on the day would succeed.

The West Indies, who played at the Brabourne Stadium against Sri Lanka, only managed 80 in that outing, but they have the advantage of knowing exactly what can go wrong on a track like this. Lara is a master at adapting to different conditions, and by now he is sure to have worked out a strategy that will give him the best chances of succeeding. How his team-mates deal with the same conditions, is a matter that remains to be seen.

What could turn out to be crucial is the opening partnership for the West Indies. Chris Gayle has the strokes to score quickly on any pitch, and when the ball is new and hard it will come on to the bat better than at any time. If he gets going, West Indies will have some sort of a platform from which to build. Equally vital is the other half of the opening partnership - Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Stephen Fleming showed on Monday that it was possible to bat long on this pitch, if you were willing to knuckle down and grind it out, and Chanderpaul has both the technique and the temperament to do that.

West Indies are also fortunate in that the likes of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels bowl a brand of quickish offspin that could prove to be very hard to get away if the pitch crumbles like it did when South Africa batted second against New Zealand. Even with the dew factor in mind, it's difficult to see anyone winning the toss and choosing to insert the opposition.

Australia, as always, are in a more comfortable position than the opposition. They have a variety of different batsmen in their team who can tackle pitches that take turn. Simon Katich is a serious option when hard graft is called for, although Shane Watson seems to be a shoo-in to open the batting. There are also Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke, two batsmen who use their feet exceptionally well to the spinners, and can keep the score moving along almost without anyone realising it.

If anything, Australia's problem is one of plenty. If they went with form players, you'd expect Katich, Dan Cullen and Nathan Bracken to miss out. However, if they chose to adopt a horses-for-courses approach, then any one of these three players could be valuable. Ponting admitted that his team was considering playing Cullen, the offspinner, alongside Brad Hogg, but that this would depend on how many fast bowlers they thought they would need. If they went in with only Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, with Watson as the third seamer, Cullen could get in. But it's hard to see this happening, as they have spin options in Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke.

Ian Bradshaw, who has been one of the more reliable West Indian bowlers in the recent past, sat out the game against Sri Lanka, but he's sure to come back to the team for this big game against Australia. Speaking at a press conference a couple of days before the game, he was confident that West Indies could recover quickly from their setback, and hold their own in this group. "We believe that we have the talent within this side not only to win the next game against Australia but to finish at the top of our group and progress to the semi finals," he said, after a practice session at the Wankhede Stadium. Topping the group is some distance away yet, but West Indies could certainly do with some good news in their immediate game against Australia.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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