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Stakes high in Sydney

Ashish Shukla | January 01, 2004 18:59 IST

With the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, India go into the deciding fourth Test at Sydney on Friday against a determined Australia who have got back to their winning ways and are preparing to give their captain a befitting farewell.

The battle between the two teams has boiled down to the wire and the fluctuating results so far in the series portend a sure thriller in the final Test.

Having allowed the hosts to level the series with an emphatic nine-wicket victory in Melbourne, the Indians will be eager not to repeat the same mistakes of the third Test when they squandered an initial advantage to bow down to the world champions. But their star batsman Sachin Tendulkar's form and a fickle tail continue to be sources of worry for India.

India's quest for their first-ever series win on Australian soil may run into rough weather with the home team keen to maintain their momentum and give captain Steve Waugh a fitting send-off before his home crowd.

Waugh did not mince words when he said he would not like to bid farewell to the game on a losing note, reminding his teammates that victory alone will be the perfect parting gift.

"I do not want to go out as a losing captain. I did that in my one-day career. I do not want to do that in Test career. That is my main concern," said Waugh.

The absence of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, who has been ruled out because of a hamstring injury, will be a big setback for the Indian bowling attack which has been struggling to contain the mighty Australian batsmen.

The Indians may include left arm spinner Murali Kartik in the playing eleven as the track at the Sydney Cricket Ground could assist the slow bowlers. The Aussies may recall speedster Jason Gillespie who missed the last Test because of a groin injury.

Indian confidence may be dented after the Melbourne defeat, but they would have to carry the belief that they can upset the Aussies once again.

Although most of the Indian top order batsmen have got some big scores under their belt, the poor form of Tendulkar has been a worrying factor for the visitors.

Tendulkar, who has been struggling to get the runs in the series so far, will be under enormous pressure as the hosts have already made it clear that they would try to remain on top of the little genius. Tendulkar will be hoping to start the New Year on a happy note and leave behind the disappointments of 2003.

Both the teams rely heavily on their batsmen to deliver the goods and whichever team bats better could ultimately lift the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the symbol of cricketing supremacy between the two nations.

India have shown enough character on the tour to earn respect from the opposition as was evident from the effusive praise of the team by Waugh.

Australia were back to their natural winning ways with a thumping nine-wicket victory in Melbourne but Waugh was unwilling to admit that the momentum was in his team's favour going into the Sydney Test.

"We have learnt over the last couple of series against India that is has been fluctuating every game and you cannot take anything for granted," Waugh said.

"I don't know what is going to happen in Sydney, but I know it will be a good match," he said.

Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly, humbled by the Melbourne mauling, urged his batsmen who could not build on good starts and the tail which failed to wag, to make amends in the final.

Ganguly also reminded his teammates that although the conditions in Sydney might suit them, they would still have to fight hard to press for a series-deciding win.

"I hope Sydney suits us. But then just favourable conditions will not help our side to win. We won in India but had to fight hard in conditions that suited us."

The wicket at SCG has raised a lot of debate already. While traditionally it has assisted the slower bowlers, the new drop-in pitch might behave differently.

But whatever the nature of the pitch, India's bowling problems remain unsolved.

Hampered by injury-induced absence of Zaheer Khan and ineffective display by Ashish Nehra, Indian team management must be thinking hard for the right bowling combination.

Kartik, the left-arm spinner who was flown-in as a reinforcement after off-spinner Harbhajan Singh had to pull out of the series due to a finger injury following the first Test, could be fielded at the expense of a paceman but it remains to be seen whether the Railways spinner can make much of an impact.

Kartik's inclusion would provide ample support to old warhorse Anil Kumble who has managed to pick wickets albeit at the cost of a lot many runs.

In contrast to the bowling mess that India find themselves in, Australia seem to be coming back to near full- strength with speedster Jason Gillespie likely to resume action in the series at Sydney on Friday.

Gillespie's return will inspire confidence in tearaway bowler Brett Lee who did not seem to be in pick form in his comeback match in Melbourne. Lee had a match haul of four wickets and would be wanting to improve on his  performance.

The batting department of both teams looks more or less in order but unlike the Indians, the Aussies have largely depended on their two in-form batsmen -- Rickey Ponting and Matthew Hayden -- to do the bulk of the scoring though Justin Langer had a century in the first Test.

Australia, with the their strong batting line-up, would be keen to post a mammoth total on the board and with Waugh, Martyn and Gilchrist yet to fire the big ones, the picture does seem bleak for the Indians.

India could breathe easier if they do not remind themselves of their last outing at this venue -- an innings and 141-run surrender to Australia in the 1999-2000 series.


India: Sourav Ganguly (captain ), Aakash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Irfan Pathan, Ashish Nehra, Murali Kartik, L Balaji.

Australia: Steve Waugh (captain), Ricky Ponting, Andy Bichel, Nathan Bracken, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie, Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Justin Langer, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill, Damien Martyn, Brad Williams.

Umpires: Steve Bucknor (WI), Billy Bowden (NZ)

Match-referee: Mike Procter (SA).

Hours of play (IST): 5.30 am to 7.30 am; 8.10 am to 10.10 am; 10.30 am to 12.30 am.

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