Do or die situation for India, Australia
Mohali, Oct 28: A desperate India, under pressure after a string of disappointing performances, take on mighty Australia in what is a must-win contest for both teams in their last Group A league game of the Champions Trophy here tomorrow.
Murphy's law says: ''Eveything which can go wrong will go wrong.'' In India's case, add to it: ''At the most inopportune time.'' A cracked finger ruled Ajit Agarkar out after the Ahmedabad debacle against the West Indies. Today, Yuvraj Singh joined him on the sidelines after a heavy fall at nets saw him hobble away with a strapped-up right knee.
With such an important game looming, India are already handicapped and little signs of relief evident.
The laboured win over England at Jaipur a fortnight ago should have sounded the warning signals. Obviously, it did not and two days ago at Motera, India shot themselves in the foot by losing a game they had no business to.
In doing so, they have given themselves a very steep mountain to climb indeed.
Now they go up against the world champions, led by a man determined to fill a hole in Australia's bulging trophy case -- the Champions Trophy. The Aussies have never gone well in this tournament and Ricky Ponting has travelled here with just one aim, to finally win that one title that has eluded his world-beaters so far.
To help him achieve that, Ponting has a team that may not be as laden with class as the one that beat India in the World Cup final three years ago, but one that certainly looks better man-for-man than their opponents of the morrow.
Ponting may himself not be among the runs, but he has the batsmen for almost all conditions. And with the pitches here more than helpful to the quicker bowlers, the off-colour Indians will be hard-pressed to counter the likes of Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken and Glenn McGrath.
Such is the depth available to the Aussies that a performer like Mitchell Johnson may not even get a look in on the morrow if Shane Watson finds a place in the XI.
Brittleness has been the hallmark of India's much written-about batting line-up ever since the 1-4 series loss in the West Indies.
And in the run-up to this tournament, only one batsman -- Sachin Tendulkar -- has scored with any consistency, and that too not as often and as well as he would like. Of the rest, the less said the better. And this is the time for this.
Adding to the problem is the dogged determination of Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid to prove that they are correct in their assessment that Irfan Pathan is the man for any and all seasons with the bat. His sequence of scores since the West Indies series only serves to raise the question, why? Pathan has scored 1, 14, 1, 8, 64, 0, 19 and 0 in his last eight outings, and the only logical reason he is still being sent up then order is that many of his colleagues are even worse off.
Factor in the fact that of the bowlers only Munaf Patel and Harbhajan Singh are taking wickets with any regularity, and you begin to see the problem, and a reason why India will find their plate full on the greensward of the PCA Stadium.
Pathan woes with the bat are reflected on his performances with the ball.
The induction of S Sreesanth -- cleared this morning by the tournament technical committee -- in place of Agarkar should add some bite, but the back-up bowling remains a problem.
This is truly a dilemma for captain and coach. If they go with two spinners and then have to field at night, the ball becomes, as Stephen Fleming called it two days ago, ''A bar of soap.'' If they go in with four quicks, as in Ahmedabad, it is as meat and drink for the Aussies.
More than that however, and as Dravid admitted this afternoon, it is time for the batsmen to start scoring runs. Otherwise, this will be a sub-continental tournament without a local flavour in a very long time indeed.
For the record, Indian last beat Australia on January 18, 2004 at Brisbane.
India made 303 for four in 50 overs, in reply to which Australia scored 284 in 49.4 overs.
Since then, India have met Australia on seven occasions, losing five, with two games abandoned. In the last 10 matches between the two teams, Australia have won seven and India just one. Not much to cheer about here.
Teams: India (from): R Dravid (c), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, M Kaif, Suresh Raina, M Dhoni (w-k), Irfan Pathan, S Sreesanth, Harbhjan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Munaf Patel, R P Singh, Dinesh Mongia.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt), Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Watson, Simon Katich, Dan Cullen, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Glenn McGrath, Brad Hogg.