Tuesday, October 22, 2013

India VS Australia, 4th ODI at Ranchi - The Australian openers also do matter a lot

India will face Australia today for the 4th ODI here at JSCA International Stadium, Ranchi and the series being tilted against Indian with 1-2 results, Indian side will definitely make attempt to level the score. But it might prove difficult for the Indian side, when Australia is full of confidence gained from its previous win, most recently from the Mohali match.

Indian side lost to Australia for 4 wickets in Mohali during their 3rd ODI of the ongoing seven match series.  It’s not just about the wicket and the familiar conditions, the support expected from the stands should be powerful enough to lift the home team’s spirit and intimidate the opposition. 

In the four matches so far, Australia have in front of some loud crowds, but Ranchi might still stun them as George Bailey and Co will get an idea of MS Dhoni’s aura when he leads his team out at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday.

When Phil Huges was practising on Tuesday at the JSCA International Stadium against a local left-arm spinner, he could handle the ball so magnificently that it seems that the Australian side are full of confidence to face the slow wicket of Ranchi. Similarly, Hughes's opening partner Aaron Finch, in another net, was in a marauding mood, lofting both pacers and spinners with ease.

Although in the last few days Indian bowlers have been criticised for their lack of performance, but it is not only the mistake of the Indian bowlers that has contributed to the debacle of the Indian side. But some credit ought to go to the Australian opening duo for putting the Indian seamers under pressure and setting up the foundations of their team's big totals.

Hughes and Finch paired up for the first time as openers in Southampton two months ago. They only put on 13 runs in that game, but Australia decided to stick to the same combination for the series against India. Statistics suggest it was a wise move. In the first match at Pune they put on 110 with Finch scoring 72 (79) and Hughes 47 (53). In Jaipur, they put on 74, with Finch scoring 50 (53) and Hughes 83 (103). The third ODI in Mohali saw them blunt the new ball and add 68 runs. They clearly like batting with each other.

At Ranchi, however, a different challenge may lie ahead of them. In the first three matches, MS Dhoni decided to open the bowling with medium pacers from both ends in order to make full use of the two new balls on lifeless pitches. The surface that will be used for Wednesday's fourth ODI is likely to be a little different. It looks brown and will, according to local groundsman S B Singh, have "some assistance for the spinners".

The BCCI's curator Ashish Bhowmick begged to differ and said that the strip would be "ideal for stroke-play with even bounce and good carry".

With the faster bowlers leaking runs freely, Dhoni might use Ravichandran Ashwin up front tomorrow. The off spinner is not at his best at the moment but he has the ability to bowl with the new ball and has opened the bowling for India before. Hughes became Ashwin's bunny during the four-match Test series in India earlier this year. He struggled against Graeme Swann during the Ashes and subsequently lost his place in the side.

Hughes has handled the spinners well so far in this series. The seamers, however, have made his job easier by allowing him to get his eye in before facing Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Hughes says that the length the Indian pacers, especially Ishant Sharma, have been bowling has "helped" him. But it will be interesting to see how he counters spin on a surface that might offer some turn.

Finch plays the role of the aggressor in the partnership. He enjoys going after the bowling, which is his natural style. But it needs to be seen if he sticks to his plan of taking the attack to the opposition if a spinner comes on first up.
Australia have consistently produced top-class openers who hunted in pairs. Geoff Marsh and 

David Boon formed a formidable combination in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh followed in their heels. And then there were Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, arguably the most fearsome and destructive opening combination limited-overs cricket has ever seen.

But this is a transitional phase in Australian cricket when they've been looking for consistency through the order. They've tried Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh and even Matthew Wade as openers. If Hughes and Finch can keep the momentum going, India will be under real pressure in Dhoni's hometown. The long-term effect: it will help Australia solve a major problem.

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