India v Australia, 3rd ODI, Delhi October 30, 2009

Who's the force with?

For half an hour at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Friday, James Hopes took throwdowns from Tim Nielsen in the nets even as the rest of his team-mates warmed up in the main stadium. He made sure he stretched while playing the sweeps, paddles and reverse-paddles. He then proceeded to bowl quite a bit, before batting some more.

Australia were desperate, but after the fitness test they chose not to risk Hopes. Brett Lee bowled a few deliveries from four paces, and it was clear he wouldn't be playing either. Graham Manou, the replacement wicketkeeper for the injured Tim Paine, was still several hours' flying time from India.

Two days ago after being mauled in Nagpur without Lee and Hopes, Australia are 'Paine-less' as well.

The win in Vadodara was just five days ago but this already seems a different world for them. Till Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar's freak partnership, it seemed like the highs from the England series and Champions Trophy hadn't ended for Australia.

Lee couldn't bowl out his quota then, Hopes' hamstring gave way and Shane Watson and Peter Siddle came down with a sudden bout of half-volleys and full-tosses. It was reminiscent of 2008 when Harbhajan and Zaheer saved the Bangalore Test, after which it was all India.

From looking like world champions, Australia are struggling to find 11 men standing, let alone a best XI. They might be desperate but they are not panicking just as yet. Ricky Ponting doesn't worry about what has happened over the last six days.

"I am not a big believer of momentum from game to game," Ponting said. "Momentum is all that's happening in a particular game. I don't think much of it carries from game to game. I think many of the games that I have played in the past have changed too quickly to be attributed to momentum.

"India played very well in the last game, and the injuries we have cost us at Nagpur. We know we have to improve. It's one thing to talk about, and another thing to go out and do."

Ponting has a point, in that you land in a city, rest for the night, train the next day, play the day after, and travel to the next city. Throw in new pitches, new grounds and new environments and repeat the cycle six times. If anything, it should be difficult to build momentum in such a series. There is hardly any time to brood over a loss either.

India, though, see the things differently. "We can say that we lost the first match because we didn't bat well or bowl well, but we took a lot of positives from that game," MS Dhoni said. "The way Praveen and Harbhajan batted, the momentum swung towards us slightly, and then we performed well in that second match in all departments. We are paying more attention to the momentum that we have, and are hoping to capitalise on it. We will try to do well this match rather than worrying about injuries in the Australian team."

However, Dhoni indicated he wasn't overestimating the concept. "What really happens in a long series like this is that it suddenly becomes a five-match series," he said. "You carry a bit of momentum and confidence, but for every game you have to start from scratch. Every batsman who is in good form has to go out and score runs for the side. At the same time, the players who have not done well in the last couple of games need to come back and perform."

Both teams are treating it differently, and it is perhaps too early in the series to talk of decisive momentum. The scoreline still says 1-1 and, though it may well be a five-match series from now on, Australia - who came into this series without two first-choice men - have lost three more. They will do well to overcome that on Saturday as the series promises a couple of more shifts in momentum.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments