Saturday, February 2, 2008

One last hurrah

Australia have one last chance to make the tri-series a pleasant memory rather than something that has provided lasting discomfort...

Australian lounge rooms are about to lose a piece of furniture with the staging of the final tri-series. For 29 years the tournament has been central to the country's summer sport-watching, but over the past decade the concept faded, was patched up, and finally wore beyond repair. In 2008-09 the CB Series will be replaced by two head-to-head contests and Australia, India and Sri Lanka are the ideal teams to farewell the once revolutionary concept.

The world champions, the World Cup finalists and the side that pushed Australia over four Tests during the past month will all fight for the piece of history. This was how it was meant to be in the beginning, when the big names dominated Kerry Packer's idea, but as the event evolved the contests became one-sided, the tournaments were more drawn out and the winners were usually Australia. Only three times since 1993-94 have Australia not been successful, including last year against England.

There may be danger lurking again. While India are fourth and Sri Lanka sixth on the ICC rankings, they are teams that have the star quality to threaten Australia. Sanath Jayasuriya often lifts mountains when Ricky Ponting's men are in the way - although his tour has started in pain with a cut jaw against Tasmania - and Kumar Sangakkara performed outstandingly during the Test tour here in November. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have similar successful attitudes when coming up against men in green.

Both squads are also regenerating and the influx of youth will lift both the fielding and collective energy of the units, which are crucial aspects when trying to challenge Australia at home. The tournament opens with Australia facing India at the Gabba on Sunday in a re-match of Friday's one-sided Twenty20 affair in Melbourne. Australia took the game in the 12th over and they want to build on the win.

"At the Twenty20 it was a good start," Ponting, who missed the match, said. "We wanted to set the tone for the entire tour there."

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India leader, tried to show he was not bothered by the size of the defeat. "It should be taken as a practice game," he said. "If you think too much about the things that have happened I don't think you will gain anything from it."

Australia have fitness worries over Ponting (lower back) and Matthew Hayden (right thigh) while India will be without Yuvraj Singh, who should be desperate to show his limited-overs class after his problems in the Test series. However, rain could be the biggest problem for all three teams - India play Sri Lanka here on Tuesday - and the forecast is for more wet weather throughout the week.

Packs of fast bowlers might be the best options on a pitch that spent much of Saturday under the covers, but Australia will wait until Sunday morning to name their squad. Adam Voges is on standby for Ponting and Hayden while Ashley Noffke has come in for Stuart Clark, who remains in Sydney for personal reasons. Once calls have been made on the two injured players, Ponting will decide whether to go with an all-pace attack on a greenish pitch or use Brad Hogg, the specialist spinner.

India's problem is shoe-horning a bunch of young enthusiastic talent. They have brought a modern team to Australia and the selectors have shown that all-round skills are preferable to age. Ponting was surprised Sourav Ganguly missed the squad, but at some point hard-won reputations have to make way for regenerating teams.

Despite the 2-1 series loss, India showed Australia have become less dominant in the Test arena and the hosts are intent on holding their edge in the one-day format. Ponting also wants to make up for the defeat to England last season.

"For the first time in a long time we didn't win the series," he said. "We've got a bit of a repayment to do there." Australia have one last chance to make the tri-series a pleasant memory rather than something that has provided lasting discomfort.

Australia (probable) 1 Adam Gilchrist, 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin, 8 James Hopes, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Mitchell Johnson.

India (probable) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Robin Uthappa, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), 7 Suresh Raina, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma.