Centurion: For the second time in 3 months, India would be faced with a do-or-die scenario in a major ICC tournament.
In June, they were in similar situation during the Super Eight stage of the Twenty20 World Cup. Against England, they flunked the test, much to the disappointment of its billion supporters.
Today, against Australia, the Men-in-Blue have been presented with a golden opportunity to atone their previous failures, and get their Champions Trophy campaign back on track with a much-needed victory.
Following the demoralising loss to Pakistan in their first match 2 days ago, it would a test of character for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys as the brace up for yet another another colossal challenge in form of the defending champions.
Australia in their second Group A match of the Champions Trophy here tomorrow.
The 54-run loss to Pakistan has not just exposed the frailties of India's bowling and batting but has also put the team, which was till last week clamoring for the top spot in ODIs, in danger of crashing out of the event in case of a defeat.
Absence of stalwarts Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh has hit the team badly, and consequently, it would be upto old pros Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid to show the way as far as batting in concerned.
The former would especially be keen to make it count against his favorite opposition especially after missing out on a big knock against Pakistan. Dravid, on otherhand would like to add a bit of fluidity to his solidness, and play yet another sheet anchor innings.
There is some respite for India as Australians too looked a bit rusty, surviving quite a few nervous moments against a rag-tag West Indies in their opening 50-run win on Saturday.
That, however, can hardly be of any comfort for Dhoni.
Ripped apart by Mohammad Yousuf and Shoaib Malik last night, the Indian bowling is in for a overhaul and serious consideration is being given to the idea of going in with two frontline spinners.
Despite the mauling against Pakistan, Harbhajan Singh is expected to retain his spot but leg-spinner Amit Mishra might just get a look-in in the must-win clash against Australia.
Indian seam bowlers were a liability at the Centurion with the trio of Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma and RP Singh conceding 153 runs from their 27 overs.
By the evidence so far, good spinners are a must on the slowish track at Centurion. Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis did a star turn against South Africa in the tour opener and Saeed Ajmal was similarly impressive last night.
Another factor that can work in Mishra's favour is his impressive record against Australia. Against the world champions, he won India a Test match in Mohali, taking a fiver on his debut.
This would necessitate some readjustment of the pace attack and it means there is a possibility that Abhishek Nayar's, who has turned out in two one-day internationals for India without coming to bat or bowl, might just get a place in the playing eleven.
Nayar's strength is his length and the strip at Centurion is also likely to assist him. He is no slouch with the bat.
However, including both Mishra and Nayar in the side is easier said than done.
Only one between Ashish Nehra and RP Singh can be dropped and the former, with four wickets under his belt against Pakistan, is unlikely to get the chop. As for the second place in the side, it can only come at the expense of Virat Kohli.
Kohli didn't quite cover himself in glory at Centurion on Saturday. He recklessly lofted a catch in the deep when the run-rate was completely in India's control.
Another reason for India to play five bowlers is the depth in batting in Australia's ranks. Skipper Ricky Ponting is in good form and fought through difficult conditions in the opening match against West Indies to score a patient 79.
Aussie vice-captain Michael Clarke is also expected to return to the side after sitting out of the West Indies tie due to a back problem.
Pacer Mitchell Johnson, who bats at number eight spot, is fresh from his invaluable 76 against the West Indies. He, along with number nine Brett Lee, added 70 runs for the ninth wicket against the Caribbeans.
In bowling, aside from a potent pace attack, Australia have decent spinners in Nathan Hauritz and Cameron White though the two shouldn't be much of a threat to the Indian batsmen, regarded as one of the best against tweakers.
Stage is set for yet another humdinger of a contest
India: MS Dhoni (capt), Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Abhishek Nayar, Ashish Nehra, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh.
Australia: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Callum Ferguson, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Tim Paine, Peter Siddle, Adam Voges, Shane Watson, Cameron White, Brad Haddin, Doug Bollinger.
Match to start at 6 pm IST
First Published: Monday, September 28, 2009, 10:40