India v Australia, 18th match, Champions Trophy October 28, 2006

'There will be no excuses' - Ponting



Ponting: 'We should be best prepared for this game compared to any other game in the past' © Getty Images

It's a mystery that India arrive at several knock-out games and sense a bit of home disadvantage: many of these players will remember Nagpur in 2004, when Australia rolled them over on a greentop, or even the 1996 World Cup semi-final at Kolkata, when the Sri Lankan spinners thrived. Now, considerably hampered with injuries, they need to prepare for Australia, on a pitch expected to offer bounce.

Ricky Ponting seemed excited and expected the conditions to suit his side better. Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson got stuck into the English batsmen while Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath are threats on any wicket. Nathan Bracken - the highest wicket-taker this calendar year with 39 from 20 ODIs - cannot be underestimated either. If not for a curious case of pitch-swapping, they might have been even more upbeat.

Until a couple of days ago, India and Australia were supposed to play on the pitch where South Africa annihilated Pakistan for 89. The latter game was to take place on the middle pitch instead. Had the head groundsman, Daljit Singh, not decided to do away with the middle strip - "the surface was affected while we played on the pitches on the side" - India could have found themselves on a fiery green-top against Glenn McGrath and co. Not the best proposition when their batsmen are in start-stop mode.

As it turns out, the surface to be used is the same one on which New Zealand managed 274 and won against Pakistan. They had their problems early on, with large amounts of seam and bounce to contend with, but fought back through two half-centuries. Things have changed since then - the grass has been shaved - but Dravid felt that the pitch wouldn't change too much. "The basic nature of the wicket won't change," he insisted. "I've been playing in Mohali for a long time there is quite a bit of bounce."

Ponting agreed and added that the surface would probably suit his bowlers more. "We watched the game last night, the ball did bounce and seam a lot. I don't think tomorrow's wicket would do quite that much. But I still think there will be considerable pace and bounce. It should be a wicket that would probably suit us a bit more than the Indian bowlers I'd imagine."

Bounce, one must remember, would also help the spinners. Harbhajan Singh relies a lot on the zip off the track while Brad Hogg, if he plays, might enjoy the conditions too. Sreesanth, who had a warm-up bowling session after arriving this afternoon, might make the cut while Dinesh Mongia - with his handy left-arm spin - might be the favourite to replace the injured Yuvraj Singh.

Typing in kho-kho gives you 3,040,000 search results on Google. "Ancient Indian sport", "running and chasing", "chariot race in the Mahabharata". Crucially, "it does demand physical fitness, strength, speed, stamina, and a certain amount of ability". Yuvraj can't be faulted for the first four attributes, after injuring himself this morning, but maybe he was a bit short on ability.

Ponting didn't know about Yuvraj's ill-conceived turn and could only snigger, "You guys have one of these every day, don't you?" It's true. With Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar and now Yuvraj Singh, India's cup of injury woes was filling up. Australia had their share of worries as well (Shane Watson - gastritis, Michael Hussey - hit on chest, Michael Clarke - tonsillitis) but the one-week break has been a boon of sorts. While India spent their 11-day gap celebrating Diwali, Australia had a chance to recharge and work on their skills.

"We are probably lucky to have the break between games," Ponting suggested, "We've had some injuries but over the last couple of days everyone has been training. Michael Clarke is the only one to have any concern over the last two days but he has trained and geared up. It is unusual to have a one-week break in a one-day tournament, but we should be best prepared for this game compared to any other game in the past. There will be no excuses. We know the conditions and we are ready to go." Simon Katich, the opener, has been kept on standby as a replacement for Clarke.

Ponting admitted Australia were "desperate" to win the Champions Trophy. Can India go on to stop them? Sri Lanka and Pakistan couldn't stop their respective opponents and if India end up losing tomorrow, it will be the first time in 31 years - since the 1975 World Cup - that a subcontinent team has failed to make the semi-finals of a major tournament. Maybe they need to start mastering kho-kho.

Teams

India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Irfan Pathan, 4 Rahul Dravid, 5 Mohammad Kaif, 6 Dinesh Mongia, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Munaf Patel, 10 RP Singh, 11 Sreesanth.

Australia (likely) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Clarke, 7 Michael Hussey, 8 Brett Lee, 9 Nathan Bracken, 10 Glenn McGrath, 11 Mitchell Johnson

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo