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'Indians' bowl in Aussie nets

Faisal Shariff | February 14, 2003 16:52 IST

This morning the Australians decided to have their net session at the SuperSport Park, the venue for their big Pool A match against India on Saturday.

At the end of the last Australian tour of India in 1999-2000, a senior Indian cricketer had said with more than a tinge of remorse that Australian cricket was ten years ahead of India's.

The moment I saw Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie pad up to take first strike at the nets, it was not difficult to see how (and why) the Australians were in a different orbit in cricket. 

When was the last time an Indian No. 10 or 11 took first strike at a net session?

Probably never.

That attitude probably explains why Australia roared back from 86-4 against the Pakistanis, and won by 82 runs.

If victory is all that matters, there is no comparison here. India and Australia both won their respective games. But the difference was that one made an easy win difficult; the other carved a grand win out of a losing cause. 

Getting nine, ten and jack to bat first at the nets does not in anyway make Australia the unbeatable team in the tournament or even in Saturday's match; no team in the abridged version of the game is invincible anymore.

But what it does is explain the method the Australian team brings to its preparations for a tournament of this magnitude.

There were three nets for batsmen in the practice ground. One net had the ball hurtling at serious pace from the bowling machine; the next had seamers bowling their stuff and the last net had spinners being smothered by the likes of Andrew Symonds, who has with one sensational innings shed the tag of being the Australian Graeme Hick.

Coach John Buchanan tosses some tweakers to Symonds and Brad Hogg with tags on them.

"This is Yuvraj (Singh)…. This is (Dinesh) Mongia…. This is (Virender) Sehwag," said Buchanan, as the two batsmen danced down the wicket and smacked the ball hard.

It's all about getting into that frame of mind -- a frame of mind that signals 'hit' when confronted by those names. Interestingly, it is not even clear if Dinesh Mongia will play let alone bowl, but Buchanan believes in leaving nothing to chance.

About 20 boys from the cricket academy that nests in the stadium are divided into two groups for each net. That way, each group finds time to recuperate, and comes back from a rest break fresh and able to bowl hard at the batsmen. The media are allowed to hang around and watch the proceedings while the Aussies sweat it out under a blazing sun.

On the main playing area, amidst the contrasting blue stands and lush green embankments, Darren Lehman and Brett Lee practice a million throws at a single stump, while keeper Gilchrist had a few diving assignments to run through before knocking the leather off some Kookaburras.

It was as strenuous a practice session as you could wish to see, yet coach John Buchanan seemed anything but confident about their match against India.

"Without being disrespectful to Holland, I reckon that the Indian team will be 200 per cent better against us on Saturday. They were looking for practice against the Dutch and I think they have fine-tuned their mindset for the game against us,” he remarked while sipping a sports drink.

He believes that India's realistic chance rests with the spinners, who can take the pace off the ball and push batsmen to force the pace.

The Centurion wicket is a batting beauty, a flat track that will assist the spinners as the day progresses. Buchanan believed that if Australia are to make an impact on the match, they will have to make an impact with the new ball. Add the fact that the strip for the India-Australia is not in the middle of the ground, making the boundary much easier to reach.

"The game is key to both sides because whoever wins the match will be assured of going into the Super Six with four points and a much better chance of making it to the semi-final stage."

The Indians for their part arrived in Pretoria at noon and reported for the net session at 3.30 in the afternoon with temperatures touching 34 degrees.

Bowlers Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan skipped the nets and instead got a rub from team physio Andrew Leipus.

After a five-minute warm-up that included throwing and catching balls across the field, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif took first strike.

These three hold the key to India's chances in the game against Australia. If Ganguly finds his form, he can single-handedly set the pace of the match and clinch it for India. Sehwag is the missile that could drive the Aussie method to madness. Kaif  however might be dropped for the crucial game. In less than four months Kaif has gone from India's finest finisher to someone who is struggling to get started.

Sachin offers advice to Ganguly, pointing out that when he lifts the bat before the delivery it moves out of line; then predicts what shot Sehwag will play and gets it spot on.

Tendulkar in the nets is a story in itself. He is involved in every aspect of the session. Before bowling, he tells the batsman where he has supposedly placed his fielders, then bowls and calls the play as the batsman plays a shot. That, he says, will go to point, this one will be held at backward square...

The intensity he brings to the nets is infectious. The youngsters love it; some seniors would rather hide. 

The net sessions don't have the methodical approach of the Aussies, but has a peculiar charm all its own. After Sehwag finishes his batting stint, he goes to the side and gets Parthiv Patel to throw him some balls for him to drive. Ganguly strolls up to him and whispers into his ear.

What could it be?

"Jo aap bolo, Dada. Sirf ek din pehle bata dena ki mereko one drop jaana hai," Sehwag replies.

Ganguly assures him that he will be given a chance to open the innings after the game against Australia. And then throws some balls to him at military medium pace which Sehwag pulls ruthlessly out of the park and jibes at his captain, “Kaash aise Brett Lee dalega to phaad dunga."

Enter John Wright, who tells Sehwag that the Aussies will bowl one short ball every over. "That means fifty balls wasted," Sehwag jokes.

Funny but still insightful; at least one batsman wishes to stay on for the full quota of fifty overs.

In another corner of the ground, Tendulkar is in serious conversation with Kaif, who faces the chop for Saturday's game.

"Pressure mein nahi aneka. Kitna ability hai, kitna opportunities hai. Use kar. Jo hua abhi tak sab nikalde dimaag se. Just play your natural game," he tells Kaif.

Adrian Le Roux, the team's physical trainer, throws a few balls to Kaif and asks Mongia standing next to him for tips to expose Kaif's weaknesses.

"Bowl across to him, he opens up too much," Mongia replies.

If Kaif does play, the Aussies will definitely probe that channel outside off.

Tendulkar walks over to Wright who is busy explaining to Sanjay Bangar why he should plant his foot forward before going through with the shot.

Yesterday Ganguly said that Bangar is the key man for India against Australia. Today's extended batting session for Bangar all but confirmed his inclusion for the all-important tie.   

Wright said that India would either play seven batsmen with two pace and two spin bowlers; or bring in an allrounder who covers your options in the first fifteen overs. If you have got the two opening bowlers, Sanjay can do that and still be able to fill that seventh batting spot.

The seventh batting spot is currently with Dinesh Mongia, who scored a healthy 42 against Holland and is sure to play against Australia. After several missed opportunities at number three, Mongia believes that he can make the number seven spot his own. 

One thing is clear, the Australians will target the Indian top order -- the eventual outcome will depend on one or more of Ganguly, Sehwag and Sachin being able to deliver a special innings.

In neutral venues, Australia and India are on level terms, with nine wins apiece in 18 games. Against that, Australia hasn't lost to India in the last three World Cup tournaments.

Will statistics define tomorrow's game? Will the well-drilled precision of the Aussies prevail? Or will the individual brilliance of an Indian dictate the result?

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