India v Australia, 3rd ODI, Hyderabad October 4, 2007

Living on the edge



Ricky Ponting: "There are a few other things with the physio and physical trainer to do, but if I get through that I will be up for selection tomorrow" © AFP

The day-time temperature in Hyderabad is around 32 degrees Celsius. It gets hotter inside a stadium filled with tens of thousands of noisy fans and when there's no love lost between the two teams, the contest could well and truly boil over. India and Australia play each other in the third of seven ODIs at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Friday, and if the walk matches the ample talk from both teams, it could be a bumpy but exhilarating ride.

Australia are likely to be strengthened by the return of their captain Ricky Ponting, who missed the first two games because of a hamstring strain he sustained during the ICC World Twenty20. Australia's one worry has been their tendency to lose quick wickets at the start - 18 for 2 at Bangalore and 8 for 2 at Kochi - and Ponting's inclusion, most likely at the expense of Brad Hodge, will allay fears of the middle order having to bail them out again. Ponting hasn't played an ODI since the World Cup final and even though he didn't contribute much in Australia's Twenty20 campaign, his captaincy and presence at No. 3 and will undoubtedly bolster his team.

"I'm hoping to play," Ponting said. "Everything is looking positive for me at the moment. I went to the ground and had a good workout at the nets yesterday. There are a few other things with the physio and physical trainer to do, but if I get through that I will be up for selection."

Nathan Bracken, the left-arm medium-pacer, has also joined the squad after attending the birth of his son and has a strong case for selection, although fitting him in is trickier than Ponting. Bracken has an excellent record in India where he's taken 29 wickets in 14 ODIs at an average of 17 and an economy rate of just over four an over, but the attack that Australia fielded in Kochi performed superbly. They completed an emphatic 84-run victory by dismissing India for 222 and the one spot that Bracken could fill is that of the allrounder James Hopes.

The ability of the Australian middle-order to recover from poor starts and the pin-point accuracy of the bowlers is what has given them a 1-0 lead. They were well prepared and executed their plans perfectly, a fact that Yuvraj Singh, the Indian vice-captain, admitted to on the eve of the third ODI. Yuvraj fell to one of those traps in Kochi, spooning a drive to Matthew Hayden, who was strategically placed at short cover.

India also face a selection dilemma with Sourav Ganguly passing his fitness test. A hamstring injury had ruled him out of the Kochi game and Robin Uthappa took his place, scoring 41 off 30 balls. If Ganguly was to return, it would have to be in place of Gautam Gambhir or Uthappa, unless the team management implement their rotation policy and rest either Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid.

Yuvraj, however, said "rotation is part of the future plan but we'll play our best XI tomorrow". Whether the best XI included Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly, or just two out of those three, he didn't say.

India frittered away a strong start in Kochi and allowed Australia's middle-order to reach 306. The offspinners - Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar - were particularly ineffective, conceding 87 off 15 overs between them without a wicket. Their batsmen failed to string together partnerships and the chase never gathered enough momentum to challenge the target.

India were outplayed with bat and ball but matched Australia sledge for sledge in the second one-dayer. Yuvraj admitted the verbal jousting between the teams got out of hand during the first two games and wanted "more cricket and less talk" on Friday. The intention is all very well but will emotions be kept under check when the pressure mounts? Don't bet on it.

Teams

Australia (likely) 1 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Brad Haddin, 7 Brad Hogg, 8 Brett Lee, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Stuart Clark.

India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Sreesanth.

George Binoy is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo

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