Thursday, January 31, 2008

India to use Twenty20 as 'practice'

Ricky Ponting is no certainty to play in the Twenty20 match against India as he continues to battle a back injury...

At the MCG on Friday, the world champions will attempt to maintain their unbeaten run against a talented opposition boasting a number of fresh faces. But in a reversal of the usual trend in recent years, Australia are the challengers and India are out to confirm their status as the world's best Twenty20 side.

The teams have met twice before in the shortest format and India came out on top both times, first with a 15-run semi-final win at the ICC World Twenty20 and then with a seven-wicket triumph in Mumbai a month later. However, India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his side was not overly concerned about Friday's result.

They have a 17-man squad to choose from and nine of those players were not part of the Test group. Dhoni said because the new arrivals had had only one training session in Melbourne, India would need to treat the Twenty20 as a chance to warm up ahead of the tri-series that also features Sri Lanka.

"We will take the Twenty20 as one of the practice games," Dhoni said in Melbourne. "The guys are more serious about the Twenty20 World Cup rather than just winning one game. I don't know how the Australians will take it but we'll take it as a good opportunity to get the new guys in and let them get used to the conditions."

Ricky Ponting said Australia were keen to stamp their authority on Twenty20 cricket after India's successes against them. "For us, maybe there are some scores to settle," Ponting said. "We are going to be playing more of it and there's definitely room for improvement for Australia."

Australia have typically rested some senior players for one-off Twenty20 internationals, but this time Mitchell Johnson is the only man being given a break after a Test series that strained the relationship between the two sides. There is a chance that neither team will be led by the man who guided them through the Tests, with Ponting's back injury giving Michael Clarke a slim hope of captaining Australia for the second time in two months, and Anil Kumble having returned home.

Ponting picked up the problem during the Adelaide Test and although he is confident of playing, he conceded it was difficult to tell how much the complaint would affect his play. "I've been pretty much flat on my back for the last couple of days, just trying to give myself the best chance to recover," he said. "At the moment I'm feeling okay but I haven't done anything to test it out yet."

Ponting will likely have one new face in his line-up with David Hussey expected to make his international debut on his adopted home ground at the MCG. Hussey's outstanding domestic Twenty20 form earned him a place and it will give him the chance to play alongside his brother Michael for the first time in three years.

The pair has not been on the same side since a couple of Australia A games three seasons ago, and they never played together at Western Australia with David having to move to Victoria to break into state cricket. "It's always been my goal to play for Australia," he said, "so hopefully it can happen and can be a special night for me with my parents flying over."

The match will be preceded by a women's Twenty20 international between Australia and England, which will be exposed to a huge audience with Channel Nine set to air a highlights package on February 10. The MCG crowd is also expected to be something special, with Cricket Victoria hoping to break the ground's record of 90,800 spectators, set during one day of an Australia-West Indies Test in 1961.

Australia squad : Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Brad Hodge, Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Adam Voges, James Hopes, Brett Lee, Ashley Noffke, Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus.

India squad : Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth.