Before the TVS Cup began, Stephen Fleming had remarked about the difficulty of the task for New Zealand in this tournament, being pitted against the World Cup winners and the runners-up. Just four games into the tournament, New Zealand have already fallen behind, and must put in a much-improved performance against Australia at Pune to prevent this tournament from becoming a two-horse race.
Another defeat will not bundle the New Zealanders out of the tournament - though Australia will be guaranteed a place in the final if they win tomorrow - but after their embarrassing rout at Faridabad, Fleming and his men urgently need a morale-booster. In the context of how the two teams have performed so far, just running the Australians close will be a significant achievement.
New Zealand's cause has not been helped by injuries to Chris Cairns and Paul Hitchcock. Cairns strained his hamstring in the first match of the tournament at Chennai, while Hitchcock suffered a side strain at Faridabad. Both are doubtful starters for Monday's match: Lindsay Crocker, manager of the New Zealand side, indicated that a final decision on both players would only be made on the morning of the match.
Australia have few worries on their plate; their biggest grouse might well be the itinerary, which forces them to play a day game just one day after finishing a day-night fixture.
The Australian top order had been below par at Gwalior, but Damien Martyn's classy century, and Andrew Symonds's powerful strokeplay suggested that the batting line-up is slowly getting into groove. The most encouraging aspect, however, has been the outstanding display by their second-string pace attack.
In the absence of their top three fast bowlers, the inexperienced line-up of Nathan Bracken, Brad Williams and Andy Bichel were expected to struggle in subcontinental conditions. In two of the three matches, though, they have given Australia the early initiative. The conditions at Faridabad were admittedly seamer-friendly, but even on the dry surface at Mumbai, Bracken and Williams extracted bounce and movement, and had Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman playing and missing on numerous occasions.
The Nehru Stadium at Pune could well offer the seamers a fair amount of assistance as well. There was a decent sprinkling of grass on the pitch, while the downpours over the last couple of days - which forced the covers to remain on the wicket - could also work in favour of the fast bowlers. The outfield was in excellent shape, though, and with fair weather expected for Monday, a prompt 9am start was a near-certainty.
Australia (probable) 1 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Michael Bevan, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Michael Clarke, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Andy Bichel, 10 Brad Williams, 11 Nathan Bracken.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Chris Nevin, 2 Stephen Fleming (capt), 3 Lou Vincent, 4 Scott Styris, 5 Craig McMillan, 6 Chris Cairns, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Chris Harris, 9 Brendon McCullum (wk), 10 Daniel Vettori, 11 Daryl Tufffey.