Rejuvenated Australia target series victory
Sunday, November 8
Start time 08:30 (03:00 GMT)
Three days ago it was being asked whether Australia would be able to make this series a contest after losing Moises Henriques to injury, the latest in a long line of losses. The squad had already lost Brett Lee (elbow), James Hopes (hamstring), Tim Paine (finger) and Peter Siddle (side strain), and was without first-choice players Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Nathan Bracken and Callum Ferguson when the series began. Now they are one game away from an unassailable 4-2 lead after stealing a thriller in Hyderabad.
"When you take all those things into consideration, the way we are continuing to improve our cricket is fantastic," said Ricky Ponting after that game. The assertion is difficult to disprove. In Mohali, Australia made 250 and bowled and fielded better than India had to level it 2-2. In Hyderabad, on Thursday, they inflicted a painful three-run loss on India who, lifted by Sachin Tendulkar's 45th ODI century, threatened to chase down 351. They may be depleted, but Australia's bowlers and fielders have put pressure on the Indian batsmen - like Adam Voges' stunning take to send back MS Dhoni - resulting in six run-outs and dismissals at crucial junctures.
For a the side that was ousted from the top spot after the series loss to South Africa earlier this year, Australia stormed back via a 6-1 win over England and the Champions Trophy title. Undoubtedly the prospect of taking home a third trophy will spur them on. The sixth ODI in Guwahati could decide the series and while it's hard to predict a winner, the high of two straight wins may just tilt the balance against the hosts.
Two losses have turned the series around and put India under pressure. The home side's win in Nagpur was a comprehensive rout - the batsman piled it on and the bowlers put the stranglehold on the Australian top order and kept up the pressure, the fielders backing them up. In Delhi Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh made easy work of the modest target of 230 on a tough track, often making the visitors appear complacent.
This is a similar situation to the one India found themselves in during the seven-match series in England in 2007. They were 3-1 but managed to claw back to 3-3, only to lose the decider.
Knowing Dhoni's captaincy they won't be thinking about Wednesday's game in Mumbai, but India know they're up against it here. India have not lost a bilateral series since the last time Australia toured in 2007. Since 2006, they've lost just two bilateral series out of 14. That is an outstanding record and improving that against the No. 1 side is a massive incentive.
India only once won a bilateral series against Australia, having gone winless since 1986. Tomorrow presents an opportunity to reverse that trend.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia -W WLLW
India - LLWWL
Watch out for...After a stop-start career, Suresh Raina is making the most of his second coming. He has managed to keep his place in the middle order despite a clutch of talented youngsters pushing for a place. Besides his batting, he has been an electric presence in the field, and also chipped in with a few tidy overs of offspin. His 59 in Hyderabad stabilised the chase and it was his fourth half-century in the year, taking his career average to 35.54.
It's not often Nathan Hauritz is on the warning list, but after one poor game he will come in for extra attention. Hauritz has been Australia's undisputed No. 1 spinner since the Ashes, and he is steadily repaying that faith with assured performances with the ball. He happy to be operating on tracks offering more turn; he was a key man in New South Wales' US$2.5m success at the Champions League Twenty20 and at a venue reputed to assist bowlers, Hauritz could prove pivotal.
Team newsRavindra Jadeja has found a fair amount of criticism in the local newspapers for his inept running during the previous game but the lack of another allrounder means he should keep his place. His bowling has been handy so far, bar the last game where everyone but Harbhajan Singh bled runs, so that should work in his favour. Munaf Patel got one game and was awful, so he could well be replaced by Sudeep Tyagi; that is, if India choose to throw the youngster into the ring with the series on the line.
India(probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Munaf Patel/Sudeep Tyagi, 11 Ashish Nehra.
A worn-out Mitchell Johnson, who was rested from the last game, is no certainty to return.
A handful of players are nursing sore bodies and Ponting indicated the replacements for Henriques and Siddle, the allrounder Andrew McDonald and fast bowler Burt Cockley, could do well given the conditions. "Macca [McDonald] has been over here with the Champions League and did a really good job for Victoria," he said. "His style of bowling on this sort of wicket would be very good, stump to stump and taking pace off the ball all the time, that's what you need on the slower, lower types of wickets."
Clint McKay performed creditably on debut, snaring three wickets including the decisive one of Tendulkar for 175 with a crafty slow bouncer. One bad game for Hauritz won't put pressure on Australia to blood the rookie spinner Jon Holland.
Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Shaun Marsh, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt.), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Cameron White, 6 Adam Voges, 7 Graham Manou (wk), 8 Andrew McDonald/Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Clint McKay, 11 Doug Bollinger.
Pitch and conditionsThe Nehru Stadium, a multi-sport arena, has staged 12 ODIs and the pitch has generally tended to favour bowlers who can move it around. Only twice have teams crossed 250 - in the past a score of around 230 has been a realistic target - but Sunil Barua, the local curator, felt this was a "300 pitch". "The wicket is a sporting one and the team batting first is likely to score more than 300 runs," he said.
Matches in the north-eastern city of Guwahati start earlier than other centres in the country, what with the sun setting as early as 5 pm, and the initial dew is conducive for the faster bowlers. The weather forecast is just fine but local authorities are concerned about the fading light. "The match can continue till about 4:10 pm and not beyond that and so the match timing has been advanced by 30 minutes," said a senior Assam Cricket Association official. "We are confident the weather conditions should help us get a full match."
Guwahati hasn't seen much international action for a while. The last scheduled ODI between India and England was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai last year and before that Guwahati was witness to an ugly riot, when another India-England game was abandoned due to a wet outfield.
Stats and trivia
- The best bowling figures at the Nehru Stadium belong to Robin Singh, who took 5 for 22 here in 1997.
- Tendulkar more than doubled his run tally with his 175 and now sits just behind Michael Hussey with 265 for the series.
- After starting the series with two poor matches with the ball, Shane Watson is now the highest wicket-taker with eight at 24.12.
"We've remained competitive and quite often just stumbled a little bit at the bigger-type moments.
We haven't done that this series so far, we've managed to find a way to win."
Ponting is proud of how the team had fought.
"Today was a lighter session. We wanted to give the guys some rest so we had a longish warm-up session."
Dhoni clears the air of doubt over Virender Sehwag missing training.
"He is two players for the price of a one. He is superbly talented who works really hard and a great asset to the side. He lends balance to the side and an important cog in the wheel for us."
Hussey piles on the praise for Shane Watson.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo