Death bowling a worry for Australia
After two matches in the series, the Indian fast bowlers can breathe easier with the spotlight shifting to their Australian counterparts. If India's fast men were the weak link going into the series, the death overs have indeed spelt doom for the Australian quicks.
MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina took 108 in the last 10 overs in Nagpur - Australia's worst showing since 1999 - and the 82 conceded in the last eight overs in the previous match in Vadodara was their sixth-worst.
The absence of Brett Lee (who didn't bowl his quota in Vadodara and was injured in Nagpur) and Nathan Bracken is telling. More incriminating than the figures is the manner in which the runs have come. Fulltosses, leg-side wides, half-volleys, length deliveries, and misfields have all made the job easier for India.
Ricky Ponting was honest in assessing the problems he faces. "Since [Glenn] McGrath has moved on, we have mixed and matched with a lot of different guys over the last few years," he said after Wednesday's defeat. "The last ten overs - 108 off the last ten - is too many to give away. When you have batsmen at the crease who can strike the ball as well as the Indians can, you only have to be a few centimetres or a few inches off your execution, and you are going to go."
Since McGrath's retirement, 18 bowlers have bowled in the last ten overs for Australia, and among those who have managed to put in 20 overs or more, only James Hopes, Lee and Mitchell Johnson have gone at under seven per over. Hopes has given away an impressive 222 off 239 balls bowled in the last ten overs of an innings. Hopes and Lee were missing in Nagpur and Johnson a last-minute inclusion. Ponting made no bones about how much Lee was missed in the current line-up. "He is one of the leading fast bowlers in one-day cricket. His form over the last few weeks has been particularly good. To have that kind of strike power up your sleeve is quite nice."
When India are playing at home with the momentum on their side, even the best of sides has found it hard to stop them. Many a touring side has found the crowds, the conditions, and the confidence of the hosts a bit too much to tackle. Dhoni, who has had more than a few problems with the bowlers himself, empathised with Ponting. "Some of our batsmen who bat at Nos 5 and 6, and Yuvraj [Singh] at 4, they are the best hitters right now in the world, and the subcontinent conditions really favour them," he said. "I won't say Australian bowlers are not good enough. They bowled well. When it comes to a pressure situation you commit errors, we do that too, some of the best bowling sides have done that."
In Nagpur, with the odds stacked against Australia, it was refreshing to see an aggressive attitude from Ponting and and his bowlers. For much of the first 35 overs, Ponting kept the field up, with mid-on and mid-off in the circle to make singles and doubles harder to come by. He was not waiting for things to happen, he was trying to make them happen. "At every opportunity I brought as many fielders inside the circle as I could to try and put some pressure on," Ponting said.
Apart from Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, the other batsmen were given a fair share of bouncers by Peter Siddle, Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus. It seemed like it would work, with Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni both being put in uncomfortable positions as three wickets fell inside the first 15 overs. But the bowlers couldn't extract anything out of the pitch or air, and once India went into the last 15 overs with six wickets in hand, the inexperience of the bowlers showed.
The good news for both the captains, though, was that the conditions might not help the big hitters in Delhi, if the Champions League Twent20 matches are any indication. Ponting has followed the Champions League matches in Delhi and could be one of the few visiting captains who won't mind a low and turning pitch.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo