AHMEDABAD, March 23: Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India start their World Cup quarter-final against Ricky Ponting’s Australia at the Sardar Patel Stadium here on Thursday, ready to face some fiery fast bowling from the tourists.
The co-hosts go into this game against the defending champions on the back of an 80-run victory over the West Indies in Chennai.
Australia’s previous match saw the end of their 34-game unbeaten World Cup run courtesy of a four-wicket defeat by fellow quarter-finalists Pakistan in Colombo.
However, the way West Indies fast bowler Ravi Rampaul took five wickets, including the prize scalp of Sachin Tendulkar with a lifting delivery, has revived the debate about India’s ability to handle short-pitched bowling.
Meanwhile, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni doubts his batsmen are worried about the prospect of facing Australia’s much vaunted pace attack in the quarter-final.
“They [Australia] definitely have very good fast bowlers, but don’t forget we have won Test matches at Perth and Durban,” Dhoni told a news conference on Wednesday.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting had earlier indicated that he was banking on the pace trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson to unsettle the Indian batsmen early.
Dhoni said it wasn’t a new game-plan, and his batsmen were prepared for it.
“The best batsmen in the world don’t like facing short-pitched deliveries and I don’t think it is a new strategy,” he said.
Dhoni added that he was not concerned about three major batting collapses in the group phase, including losing the last nine wickets for 29 runs against South Africa.
“In all those games we were in a good position and wanted to accelerate and get as many runs as possible. That’s why we lost the number of wickets that we did,” the Indian captain explained of the failures in the batting powerplays.
Asked if India were too dependent on pace bowler Zaheer Khan, who has taken 15 wickets in the tournament, Dhoni said it was just a matter of who was hitting form at the right time.
Dhoni also revealed that his team’s explosive opening batsman Virender Sehwag is doubtful for the quarter-final with a knee problem.
“On Viru [Sehwag] we are taking a call late in the evening or tomorrow morning before the start of the game,” Dhoni said.
“Apart from him everybody else is fit for the game.”
Ponting, on the other hand, reckons his batsmen know what to expect in Thursday’s game, just as their Indian counterparts know what awaits them.
Ponting made it amply clear that the four-time champions would employ their time-tested formula of unleashing raw pace against the Indian batsmen.
Ponting expects India to play to their strength as well, pressing into service one spinner after another to torment the Australians.
“No doubt we rely on our fast bowlers to take the wickets and India are probably the exact opposite of that,” Ponting told reporters.
“Looking at their last match, it was probably in the 26th-27th over before [pace bowler] Munaf Patel got to bowl. We have an idea of what to expect tomorrow. Probably they would open with Zaheer Khan and one of the spinners with the new ball and bring their spinners early on.”
Mind games are perceived by many as an indispensable part of the Australian way that Ponting spoke about.
NDIA: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine, Steve Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Callum Ferguson.
PITCH CONDITIONS: Usually proves an excellent batting surface so bowlers on both sides are set to have to be at their best to enjoy success.
UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus (South Africa), Ian Gould (England).
TV UMPIRE: Richard Kettleborough (England).
MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).