Wednesday, October 28, 2009

India out to hurt injury-hit Australia

Australia's lead-up to their second clash against India in Nagpur will be more structured than the approach to the first, when their pre-match plans were affected by the late arrival of the New South Wales players participating in the Champions League final and their game-time strategy hit by the loss of Brett Lee and James Hopes during India's chase. This time their bad news has come in advance - Lee and Hopes are out with elbow and hamstring problems, and there are doubts over Mitchell Johnson, who hurt his ankle, as well, although coach Tim Nielsen was hopeful about his participation - yet they will be challenged to repeat the win they recorded at Vadodara.
India, on the other hand, are likely to be boosted by the return of Yuvraj Singh, who had broken his finger during the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa. Among the several problems India faced in Vadodara - a scattergun bowling attack, a mis-firing top order, and a less-than-electric fielding unit - was inexperience in the middle and lower order. Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja are promising emerging talents but fielding both players in the same XI doesn't inspire much confidence. Yuvraj's inclusion will solve that problem.
Wedneday's game will be the first one-day international in Nagpur since the new stadium was built on the city's outskirts in Jamtha. It had hosted the deciding Test of the India-Australia series in 2008 but that match was blighted by poor crowds largely due to the inaccessibility of the venue. One-day cricket, however, is a far bigger draw than the five-day version and only the commute, especially back to the city after the match ends at night, could prevent a packed house at the one of India's best stadiums.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia - WWWWWIndia - LWLWL
Watch out for ...
Virender Sehwag: He hadn't played international cricket since the tour of New Zealand earlier this year and his first two balls in Vadodara reminded everyone of what India had missed. Sehwag cracked Lee through point and midwicket for fours and added another boundary, against Peter Siddle, a ball later. However, he didn't carry on and his brief innings - 13 off 11 balls - would have merely whetted his appetite.
Yuvraj Singh: On his day, Yuvraj is among the most destructive one-day batsmen, and his days tend to happen more often at home than abroad. Yuvraj averages 43 at a strike-rate of nearly 95 while playing in India, compared to an average and strike-rate of 39 and 84 overseas. In his last one-day series in India, he devastated England, hammering 325 runs in five innings at a strike-rate of nearly 130.
The batting Powerplay: Both teams struggled after taking it in Vadodara. Australia managed only 33 runs off theirs, taken between 43 and 47, and lost three wickets. India were worse. They opted for it in the 35th over, lost Gautam Gambhir first ball, and scored 32 for 3 during the fielding restrictions.
Nathan Hauritz: Watch out for Hauritz? Really? His seemingly gentle offbreaks are always under-rated but he bowled a valuable spell in the first ODI. He kept the run-rate down during the Dhoni-Gambhir partnership and had figures of 7-1-15-1 before getting hit by Harbhajan Singh towards the end of the game. He was not the most heralded spinner in the series but he was the best one on show in Vadodara.
Team news
India have a few changes to ponder over. If Yuvraj returns, it will be at the expense of either Kohli or Jadeja. However, Yuvraj's return adding strength to the middle order could also result in India fielding the extra specialist spinner in Amit Mishra if the pitch is conducive for slow bowling. In that case, both Kohli and Jadeja could miss out. The other player likely to miss out could be Praveen Kumar, who leaked 77 runs off ten overs in the first game. Despite his success with the bat, his spot could go to Munaf Patel.
India: (probable) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Praveen Kumar/Munaf Patel, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Assuming Johnson will be passed fit, Australia have to replace Lee and Hopes. The contenders are Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus, Jon Holland and Shaun Marsh. Either Bollinger or Ben Hilfenhaus is a certainty for the third fast bowler's spot, and considering Australia got by with Hopes bowling only two overs in the first game, they could strengthen their batting and give his spot to Shaun Marsh.
Australia: (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Adam Voges, 7 Cameron White, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz 10 Doug Bollinger/Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Peter Siddle.
Pitch and conditions
Deciding what to after winning the toss in India is usually a no-brainer. Most teams prefer to bat, and take advantage of a slowing pitch as the game progresses. However, the decision in Nagpur may not be so clear cut. The pitch is expected to be flat and excellent for run-making but dew in the evenings could make captains think twice before batting first, especially if there are a few slow bowlers in the line-up. Dhoni said that one of the matches during the recent Challenger Trophy was severely affected by dew and he said the organisers were trying to minimize its effect on the game by spraying the ground with chemicals.
"It looks like a good wicket. And if there is dew, they will spray the outfield, may be use the super-sopper as well during the drinks break," Nielsen said. "But yes, it will be a bit more difficult with dew around especially for spin bowlers who will find it hard to grip the ball. It will have an impact. For the team batting second, the difficulty in chasing will be reduced a bit with dew around so the team batting first needs to make a competitive total."
Stats and trivia
Ricky Ponting is the highest run-scorer in ODIs in 2009, having scored 1005 runs in 24 matches with two centuries and seven fifties. Michael Hussey is third with 926 at an average of 42.
MS Dhoni has the best average for anyone who's played atleast 10 matches in 2009. Dhoni's scored 768 runs in 21 matches at an average of nearly 70.
Shane Watson has the distinction of having scored the most hundreds and ducks in 2009. He's scored three centuries to date, and also been dismissed for duck four times.
Mitchell Johnson is the leading wicket-taker in 2009, with 39 wickets in 26 matches at an average of nearly 30 apiece.
Quotes"Brett is certainly out of tomorrow's game but Mitchell Johnson's woken up a lot better today morning than we thought he would be when we drafted the media release yesterday evening. We will see how he pulls up through the training session today and all the indications are that he might well be available tomorrow morning. At this stage, Mitchell is not completely out."Tim Nielsen is keeping his fingers crossed on Johnson.
"We have not been great with our death bowling. If you see the last game, the first few overs - 42nd over onwards - it was good and in the 50th we gave away one run. In between there was a span of four overs when we gave away 50-52 runs."MS Dhoni knows India's bowling at the end of the innings is a problem.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Australia survive for tense victory

Australia 292 for 8 (Ponting 74, Hussey 73, White 51, Paine 50, Ishant 3-50) beat India 288 for 8 (Gambhir 68, Harbhajan 49) by 4 runs
If the best way to spark interest in a seven-match ODI series is to stage a brilliantly tense opener, then Australia and India achieved their goal in Vadodara. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey set up what looked like being a comfortable Australian win until a lively, crowd-lifting partnership from Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar threatened to snatch victory for India.
In the end, nine were required from the final over and Peter Siddle held his nerve to confirm a four-run margin in Australia's favour. The key moment came when Harbhajan (49) was bowled from the second ball of the 50th, trying to launch a boundary off Siddle. Six from the last ball was too much for Ashish Nehra to produce.
The feisty 84-run stand from Harbhajan and Praveen was unexpected after India fell to 201 for 7 with ten overs remaining, when they needed more than nine an over. Shane Watson won't want to watch the replay of his final overs; he became predictable with his full tosses outside off and when he sent down the 49th of the innings it cost Australia 20 runs.
Ultimately, Australia got off the hook, largely because India had let themselves down in the field and through the middle overs of their own innings. Although Praveen, with his unbeaten 40 from 32 balls nearly got them home, his ten overs earlier in the day had cost 77 and Australia's batting contributions were even and widespread.
Ricky Ponting thinks a seven-match one-day series is too long; Michael Hussey would play cricket 365 days a year if he could. Both men looked sharp at the start of this tour in setting up the challenging total of 292 for 8. Ponting and Tim Paine built the platform before Cameron White and Hussey drove the total higher, and all four men posted half-centuries.
In reply, only Gautam Gambhir fired up properly out of India's top order. Gambhir had fought his way to 68 from 85 deliveries when he fell to the first ball of the batting Powerplay, which was also the first delivery with the changed ball after 34 overs. Mitchell Johnson found some dip and a hint of swing that trapped Gambhir in front of middle stump and the chase was threatening to derail.
Prime Numbers
9The number of 50-plus scores for Michael Hussey in ODIs in 2009. In 26 innings this year, he averages 42.09, at a strike rate of 92.05.
84The partnership for the eighth wicket between Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan Singh. It's India's highest for that wicket in ODIs.
58The number of runs India scored in the last five overs. Harbhajan contributed 32 of those.
50The number of wickets for Brett Lee in ODIs against India, which is the highest by an Australian against India. Steve Waugh is next, with 43 wickets in 53 games. Lee's 50 have come in 29 games, at an average of 20.70.
8The number of Man-of-the-Match awards for Hussey in ODIs. It was his first, though, against India. Of the teams against which he has played at least ten ODIs, New Zealand is the only one versus whom he hasn't won the award.
580The total number of runs scored in the match, which fell short of the record at this ground by a single run. In the match between India and West Indies in 2002, India scored 290, but lost by five wickets.
The runs had been well restricted by Brett Lee and Peter Siddle in the middle overs and Gambhir and MS Dhoni were under pressure to make full use of the Powerplay, with the required rate climbing to 7.87. A pair of wickets to Johnson slowed India further.
That Johnson bowled even a single delivery was a positive for Australia after he rolled his ankle early in the fielding effort and appeared to be in significant pain. He left the field briefly and returned to have an impact, although the loss of James Hopes to a leg injury after he sent down two overs will be a concern for the remainder of the series. Australia had the bowling options to cover for Hopes and the part-time spin of Adam Voges accounted for Virat Kohli, who had combined with Gambhir for a 58-run stand until he skied a catch for 30.
Gambhir was comfortable rotating the strike and found the boundary six times, also clearing it once with a strong strike over wide midwicket off Hopes. He was at the crease at No. 3 thanks to the return of Virender Sehwag, who opened with Sachin Tendulkar, although neither of the veterans could make it to the ten-over mark.
But whereas India's two most experienced players failed, Australia's two most capped batsmen stepped up to guide their team. Ponting's 74 was the innings that set the tone but it was Hussey's 73 from 54 deliveries that kept things on track and ensured a healthy total when India threatened to fight back late in the innings.
Australia took their batting Powerplay from the 43rd over and it brought 3 for 33 (India's would later result in 3 for 32) after the powerful White skied a catch for 51 from the second delivery. It was important that Hussey bat until the end and he did survive to the final few balls, accumulating his runs in typically anonymous and understated fashion.
One exception came in the penultimate over when he launched Praveen for a monstrous straight six that left the ground and was so impressive that Hussey was even caught by the TV cameras raising his eyebrows and mouthing "that's big" to his partner. But for the most part, Hussey pierced the field along the ground and ticked the score over with hard, tireless running between the wickets.
He followed the lead of his captain Ponting, who was fierce against the fast men, punching off the back foot and going over the top when the occasion warranted. Few batsmen in the world would have the confidence to hook a fast man after walking down the pitch and being surprised by a bouncer but Ponting did just that, launching Praveen over the boundary for six.
Praveen felt the brunt of Ponting's form and he was also whipped through leg by Paine, whose 50 was important in setting up Australia's effort. Ishant Sharma was more dangerous with a fuller length that allowed the ball to swing and his 3 for 50 was well deserved.
Nehra collected two wickets and bowled reasonably, while Ravindra Jadeja's figures improved when he trapped Ponting plumb lbw. But ultimately India had too few contributors while the Australians all played their part.
The only visitor who didn't contribute was the umpire Mark Benson, who sat out of the match through illness. He missed a classic of the 50-over format.

Katich rates Champions League win near the top

The captain Simon Katich ranks New South Wales' Champions League Twenty20 win as one of the proudest moments of his career. Katich, who said the thrill of reaching the semi-finals of Celebrity Masterchef was almost as good as a century for Australia when it aired last week, arrived back in Sydney on Sunday following his side's US$2.5m victory over Trinidad and Tobago in Hyderabad on Friday.
"I'm very proud of everyone," Katich said in the Daily Telegraph. "We needed everyone firing and everyone did a great job right through the tournament. It's certainly one of the proudest moments I've had in my cricketing career.''
Katich, who has played 43 Tests and 45 ODIs, was praised for his captaincy during the tournament, which included opening the bowling with the spinners Nathan Hauritz and Steven Smith during the last two games. The moves were successful and they finished off the inaugural event with a 41-run victory.
Stuart Clark was another key performer, taking nine wickets at 12.44, and he said the win was his third most satisfying achievement in the game. "I think international cricket is always the pinnacle," he told the Australian. "The Ashes series in Australia is my greatest cricket memory and achievement, I only played one game in the [2007] World Cup, but for most people that is second and this to me runs third, but it is a very close battle between one, two and three."
He said the successes were great for different reasons. "This win meant so much for all the NSW people sitting at Moore Park and for all the young guys in our team, some who may never play international cricket," he said. "This is the highlight of their careers and they will thoroughly remember it."
Clark has tipped Smith and Moises Henriques for big things following their efforts in the two-week tournament. "Moises' improvement shows day by day and he is going to be an Australian player as soon as there is a spot available," he said. "Steve Smith is on his way too. You would think the writing is on the wall for a 20-year-old who can bowl leg breaks, given there are not too many leg-break bowlers around in the country. Then there is Phil Hughes and David Warner, sometimes they need a bit of guidance but they are super players with super talent."
The squad is due for a let down over the next week as they return to Australian domestic duties. Their first game of the summer is against Western Australia at North Sydney on Sunday in the FR Cup.

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