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June 3, 1999


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Indian talent versus Australian attitude

R Mohan

The real World Cup begins now. The pretenders and the minnows have been eliminated.

The six that have made the first cut are about the best on current from, although England and the West Indies can consider themselves somewhat unfortunate to have been pushed out despite their having scored three wins in the preliminary league.

The Super Six begins with an intriguing contest between Indian talent and Australian attitude at The Oval on Friday. Both those qualities are, perhaps, needed to win cricket matches and it is not as if those qualities are the monopoly of either side. It is just that India's batting talent stands out while Australia's attitude has always been their forte.

Both sides have stood on the podium before and they know what winning a World Cup does and can do to their cricket. Both sides have the kind of combinations that can send a shiver down the opponent's spine. India are the dangerous floaters and Australia the tough-as-nails foes who have never been known to give anything away easily. Their meetings in the past have been dramatic and inevitably raised points, cricketing and otherwise, even hackles.

India versus Australia in a World Cup means one thing straightaway - a close finish. One run separated them twice in two successive World Cups in 1987 and '92 and their previous meeting in Bombay in '96 could have gone so easily India's way had they measured up to the bogey of Shane Warne, who is all attitude when he comes in to bowl in the one-day game. It is almost as if he is a WWF contestant coming into the ring, so loud is his announcement of intent.

There is one cricketer in India who is all talent, the very personifcation of the most desirable quality. And the sight of him has been known to psyche the Aussies out. Their attitude can take a beating if someone like Sachin Tendulkar gets firing against them. The result in the two great games in Sharjah, which were the big highlights of 1998, was one-one, with India winning the Cup and Sachin was the heroic figure in both, as he set up an exposition of batting that remains like a vignette etched in memory.

In the current World Cup, the form of Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly has been so good that India is no more considered the one-man team, and Sachin, the all conquering one-man army. And yet India knows full well that Sachin can swing the game their way because he has such a huge psyhcological hold on the Aussies. They knew not what to do with him in the Test series in India last year and again in Sharjah soon after.

That is the reason why India will toy with the idea of asking Sachin to open and technically make available to him all the 50 overs. The weather conditions may, however, decide the final strategy since overnight rain is predicted for London but clearing on Friday morning. Sending him at the top of the order would signal clear and aggressive intentions.

"If we can knock them over early it would expose their mid and late order,'' is how Steve Waugh put it. The great contest that is looming large is the one betwen Glenn McGrath and Sachin. McGrath came good in the nick of time, bowled Lara neck and crop in one great spell and put Australia into the Super Six.

Mcgrath did not tour India and Australia last year, which means he is one bowler who was spared the punishment from Sachin's magic as he made 204 not out in Bombay, and then 155 not out in the Chepauk Test, and a further 177 in Bangalore. There was one clear winner in his battle against Warne, who had, however, won the first round when Mark Taylor caught Sachin at slip in Warne's first over.

Both teams also know the price of failure. They will begin the Super Six with nil points and defeat can virtually mean elimination at the second cut. Teams like Pakistan and Zimbabwe can put themselves in the semi-finals with just one win in the Super Six, while South Africa can get there with two wins. India and Australia would have to win three to get there, since two wins are only likely to place them in a log jam for the last of four slots in the semis.

The history of India-Australia ties in World Cups suggest these are not terms that get completely psyched out when they are playing in the big league. Their matches are generally high-scoring ones which again means that either talent or attitude is going to settle the issue at some point or the other.

There is, of course, the chance that their meeting at The Oval can go right down to the wire. The bookmakers here give the edge to Australia over India but they too know that talent can bowl over attitude as much as attitude can help conquer talent. The touts are targetting India and Pakistan games in the Super League since that is where the premiums will lie.

This can turn out to be a great contest between the game's new imperialists who do everything from calling visiting bowlers for ''chucking'', accusing fellow professionals of offering bribes to under perform, while suppressing the news for four years that two of their own had in fact taken money. That is how curious Australian behaviour has been while India goes on with a basic faith in the game on the pitch being the main thing.

The weather in England could not have been more kind. To go through 30 matches without major disruption with just one match-India - England - going into a reserve day in the month of May constitutes a miracle. That has changed now with storms and showers and rain in the island. Even then two days should be sufficient for a result in a one-day match. Australia have promised to play the Super League more aggressively, while India is peaking at the right time. The Kenngington Oval is suddenly a big battleground.


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