Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Daniel Laidlaw
For and Against
March 23, 2003
It is the final the World Cup deserved and the match-up both teams needed, if not necessarily wanted. Since the early stages of the tournament, Australia and India have demonstrated they are the form teams, a level above the rest. As both progressed, became increasingly apparently the only team likely to genuine match each of them has been the other.
Following roughly parallel paths, from the top two spots in Group A to the head of the Super Six table, each has built momentum until finally they must challenge each other for the trophy. Confident, skilled and spirited reigning champions Australia against dominant, explosive, in-form India. Something must give.
Here is a quick outline of the reasons for and against each team winning in a few hours.
For: Not the same team that lost to Australia in the group stage. Since that loss, India's batsmen have grown dramatically in confidence as the team has established an eight-game winning streak. Tendulkar has led the way with a record-breaking tournament and there is no reason why that should not continue in the final. A big score from him, and India will have taken a significant step towards securing the trophy.
Even if Tendulkar does go cheaply, India's batting is versatile and deep. Sehwag is yet to fire, and now has the perfect stage. Ganguly is in form. The quality and confidence is there to combat McGrath and Lee, and if those two are negated pressure will be applied to the rest of the attack.
The main reason India might win, though, is its bowling attack. Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra have been India's prime movers. They can strike early and if they do, can keep Australia under sustained pressure. India are balanced, well-led, confident.
Lost to Australia in the group stage and have not been tested by a team of that calibre since. While Tendulkar has been brilliant, if he fails the rest of India's batting will come under a pressure not experienced since the first Australian meeting. Ganguly's three hundreds have been against non-Test playing teams, and his record against Australia is poor. Sehwag is out of form. If the top three get overwhelmed, it will be difficult to check Australia's momentum. A bouncy Wanderers pitch may not suit India.
India's form seam attack has not bowled to a top order of Australia's quality. The Aussies will attack, and it is not known how the bowlers will respond if their rhythm is unsettled.
India have not experienced World Cup final before. It is a big occasion and it's possible they may hesitate.
For: On a record winning streak and yet to produce their best game. Like in '99, Australia could be saving their best performance for the final, and will feel they have the psychological advantage being the only team to beat India. Many players have already experienced World Cup finals, and know they can produce their best cricket under pressure.
Brett Lee is in peak form and could puncture the top order. If Lee and McGrath strike early, the Australians will fancy maintaining pressure on India and overwhelming them as in previous encounter. They have fine back-up in Bichel and the Indians have not really seen Hogg before. The bowling is a strength that could carry them to title.
India's seamers are a threat but have not yet bowled to the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting. If one or more of those three dominate, rhythm will be unsettled. In every game, at least one batsman has risen to the occasion, proving depth and versatility. Australia have strong self-belief and expect to perform.
Recent form not as strong as India's, who are a dramatically improved side from the first encounter. Hayden has struggled for form while the batting generally has been somewhat inconsistent. If they don't respect India's seam attack, early wickets would expose middle order and they will struggle to reach a competitive total.
Lee and McGrath will be under great pressure to perform bowling to the best batsman in the world. If they are over-aggressive or do not strike in the first 15 overs, India will prove difficult to contain. While he has been a strike weapon, Lee has had some wayward first spells and if he gets carried away with bowling short and Tendulkar fires, Australia will be in trouble. Bichel and Hogg then become less dangerous.
Top order has shown a propensity to over-attack, which could prove their undoing if shot selection is poor. May not be allowed to fight back from adversity as they were against others.