It might be a tragicomedy of epic proportions that India and Australia, the top 2 ranked teams in the rankings are playing each other in the QFs but who can they blame apart from themselves? While Group B was keenly contested, Group A lost much of its lustre after the Australia vs Sri Lanka game was washed out.
And it would appear that Australia have suffered the most from an untimely shower in Colombo. Ricky Ponting does not have many friends to begin with but it would appear he has even managed to anger the heavenly beings as well. Crucially, it robbed Australia of some valuable preparation as they came unstuck against Pakistan in their final game.
Australia’s form in this World Cup has been mixed. Their performance was serviceable against Zimbabwe but the trademark swagger was missing in wins against Canada and Kenya. The win against New Zealand was as dominating as the defeat to Pakistan was demoralising. It is difficult to say where Australia stand among the remaining teams as the strong run of form against England in the summer is sharply fading.
The ‘fast and furious’ gameplan of using Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson to maximum effect was only ever going to work with runs on board. While Taity can be deadly on his day, he is liable to be a loose cannon with the cherry. Without a decent total to defend, he becomes more of a gamble. Mitch on the other hand vacillates between gold and dust so often that it is hard to predict which or what will show up any given day.
The Aussie bowlers need the safety of runs to strut their stuff. So what has the Australian top order to show for this gameplan to work? Nothing much. Brad Haddin and Shane Watson have wasted starts and often looked in second gear. Clarke has marshalled the middle with useful albeit measured knocks. David Hussey and Cam White have proven that Victorians are only ever good playing for Victoria. Ponting has been a disaster.
While the return of Michael Hussey shores up lower order, Australia really need to up the ante with Watson and Haddin. The terminal decline in Ponting’s output is the bigger worry and Australia would hope he really is saving it for the critical games! The reality is damning though and it is unlikely that Punter will reverse the downtrend. Question is, does he sink the team as well?
His dwindling fortunes have now manifested in his conduct. While a hissy fit in the confines of the locker room may be forgiven, his on-field spray at Steven Smith is beyond reproach. Of course, Ponting never intends for any of this to happen. Yet, they have continued with an alarming frequency of late. And he does so in the safety and certainty of a carte blanche from Cricket Australia.
His fans (and I can count them with my fingers) will say that “a good knock is just around the corner”, that I am being foolish in writing off “a batsman of such immense talent” but none of that changes the fact that he is a spent force. Even if he strikes a vein of form, do you still persist with a fading star on the wrong side of 37? Not promoting younger players cost us the Ashes, and now it can cost us the World Cup.
Australia’s only saving grace is that they are playing an indifferent Indian side that has failed to live up to the favourites tag. They could always count on feasting on the Indian pop gun bowling attack. They would seek to push every small advantage in a hope that India will stumble under the pressure and expectations of a home crowd.
Yet, India are the side that has been through the wringer. They have been exposed, yes, but in doing so have been tested. They have shown no signs of mental fragility and will go in as favourites in the tie. India under Dhoni have shown the spirit that is famously Australian. Sure, they possess all the weapons to force an unlikely victory but one feels that lack of confidence more than ability will be Australia’s undoing.
A loss for either teams will mark the end of an era. Australia’s dominance on one hand is at stake and so is India’s assertion as the emergent power. Defeat will be unimaginable as well as shattering. It might also be curtains for some of the protagonists. Is this the Final Countdown?
Guest Post by Sunny Mishra
Sunny is a keen Sehwagologist and even keener test cricket enthusiast. While he is not fixing the odd backyard game or learning the vagaries of LBW law, he is often found pointing fingers on Twitter.