India will look to exploit Australia's inexperienced middle-order with assistance from its spinners
There’s one dubious record hanging around its neck like a millstone that India will be desperate to get rid of come Friday (September 28). Since winning the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 2007, India hasn’t won a Super Eights match in six consecutive attempts, losing all three matches in England in 2009 and repeating that unwanted feat in the West Indies in 2010. Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be desperate, therefore, to arrest that trend when he leads his team out against Australia at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Victory will be vital for more reasons than one. For starters, it will help India get on the board in the Super Eights for the first time in three ICC World Twenty20 tournaments but, equally importantly, it will give it a headstart as it seeks to chase down a semi-final slot from the more difficult of the two groups.
Lying in wait, after the Australia game, are Pakistan and South Africa. All three of India’s matches in the Super Eights, therefore, will be gruelling contests that will make huge demands on physical and mental reserves. The slightest dropping of the guard will be ruthlessly exploited, and the slightest lapse in concentration mercilessly punished.
In some ways, India will look at the Australian batting order and believe the four-time ICC Cricket World Cup champion offers it the best chance of getting off to a winning start. Australia has a top-heavy line-up with David Warner, Shane Watson and Mike Hussey occupying the first three slots. Beyond that, there is a fair amount of inexperience that India will look to exploit, especially if there is some help for its spinners.
In a surprise break from the norm, Dhoni hinted strongly that India would field five specialist bowlers, which almost certainly means Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin will team up to form a potent spin combination. It’s through Harbhajan, so impressive on his international comeback against England last Sunday, and Ashwin, who has established himself as India’s premier spinner, that India will attempt to eat into the Australian batting, which showed distinct signs of fragility and unease against Saeed Ajmal in particular in the United Arab Emirates not so long ago.
But for India to get to the middle-order, it must first get past Warner, Watson – man of the match in both of Australia’s victories in Group B – and Hussey, who together form a most fearsome triumvirate. Irfan Pathan, with his ability to swing the ball, will therefore be crucial to India’s attack with the new ball, though Dhoni could also do with some help from Zaheer Khan, his senior pro who has gone off the boil of late but who has shown in the past that he relishes the big stage.
If Dhoni does go in with five bowlers, it will force him to make a difficult call with regard to which batsman to leave out. The obvious candidates would be Virender Sehwag, who was rested for the England game, and Yuvraj Singh, back in business after recovering from cancer. Yuvraj is favoured to keep his place not only because he can smite the ball a mile and is an acknowledged finisher, but also because he can take the ball away from the right-hander and lend variety to an attack that has a profusion of off-spinners, both specialist and part-time.
Australia was clinical in its demolition of Ireland in its opening Group B fixture, but its bowling was shown up by West Indies, which piled up 191 from its 20 overs. Heavily reliant on Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, with Watson more than an ideal back-up, Australia can ill afford its quicker bowlers to have another off-day against the India, uncertain and edgy against Afghanistan but clearly more at home against a far tougher opponent in England.
Starc’s propensity to bring the ball in to the right-hander from a left-am over angle and Watson’s aggression should complement Cummins’ searing pace. Cummins has expressed a desire to subject the Indians to chin music; if he is to prove that that is no empty boast, he will have to bend his back on a surface that should be slightly worse for wear, considering this will be the second match of the day on the same pitch, after the Pakistan-South Africa showdown.
Colombo has been rain-free since the Ireland-West Indies game was abandoned on Monday (September 24) night, but whenever it has rained in the last week, it has been after 8pm. The teams will have half an eye on the weather, but no more, simply because there are so many more controllable areas to focus on.