Ahmedabad: The quarter final clash between Australia and India, here on Thursday, is not only about who stays in the hunt for the title but also about two of game`s modern day greats Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting squaring off in a World Cup game for what appears to be one last time.
The two ageing warriors would like to stamp their superiority and propel their side to the last four stage on March 24 at Motera`s Sardar Patel Stadium. Neither of the two is expected to be around in 2015 when the next edition is scheduled to be held Down Under. In the previous meeting between the two sides in the World Cup, that took place in the summit clash of the 2003 edition in Johannesburg, Ponting came out trumps with his unbeaten century took the game away from India even before the Men In Blue came out to bat.
Ponting`s blistering 140 not out, in only 121 balls with a staggering eight sixes and 4 fours, had propelled Australia to an imposing 359 for two.
Chasing the huge Australian total, Tendulkar could score only 4 and despite Virender Sehwag`s run-a-ball 82, India fell well short of the target and Australia walked away with cricket`s most coveted prize for the second edition running.
On Thursday, in front of a vociferous 50,000-strong crowd, the Indian master has the chance to make ample amends for what happened eight years ago and also step into the record books as the first batsman to have scored 100 centuries combined in both forms of cricket -- Tests and ODIs.
Tendulkar has had a very good tournament individually, with superbly crafted tons against England and South Africa at the league stage, though both efforts could not power India to victories, with the first match tied and the second ending in a narrow defeat.
Ponting, on the other hand, has had a horrendous run with the bat. In six matches, he has mustered a miserly 102 runs with 36 being his best effort at a poor average of 20.40, less than half his 358-match career average. Ponting`s ODI average in India against the hosts is also an impressive 44.86 from 24 games, but the second and last of his two hundreds in this country was notched eight years ago in Bangalore.
The Tasmanian has looked a pale shadow of his domineering style and is under tremendous pressure to keep his captaincy though teammate Michael Hussey felt otherwise. Hussey brushed aside reports in Australia that Ponting`s captaincy was at stake, at a media conference here today and said the entire team was backing the struggling skipper.
"No worries at all. He has been fantastic, best man for the job and has been for a long time. He`s certainly got the full support of all team members," Hussey said.
Ponting has also been lambasted in the media for losing temper on the field of play and off it too, as well as for not walking after clearly edging behind the stumps while Tendulkar did the exact opposite a day later and was hailed for his sportsmanship. "He’s been criticized over minor things. They have been blown out of proportions. He`s been playing well and just like a champion rises to the occasion at the right time, on Thursday we will see the best of Ricky Ponting," Hussey said in his skipper`s defence.
In five duels against Australia in World Cups, Tendulkar`s best effort thus far has been a splendid innings of 90 in a league game at Mumbai`s Wankhede Stadium in 1996, and his average against them is a modest 28.20 spread over four World Cups.
Thursday`s match provides both these stalwarts, among the all-time great batsmen in the game, a last chance to impose their stature in head-to-head battles in the premier ODI tournament.