Team India eyes hat-trick of wins to stretch lead

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> The Indian team would be gunning for a treble of triumphs to stretch their lead against a depleted Australia in the fourth one-dayer on Monday.

Updated: November 02, 2009 08:18 IST
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Cloaked in an aura of formidability acquired from back-to-back wins but struck by injury problems, the Indian team would be gunning for a treble of triumphs to stretch their lead against a depleted Australia in the fourth cricket one-dayer here on Monday.

With explosive openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir uncertain after picking up injuries in the third one-dayer, which India won by six wickets, the hosts have been forced to bring in Dinesh Karthik as a cover batsman.

While Sehwag was hit on the foot by a Peter Siddle yorker on Sunday, Gambhir was struck by a Ricky Ponting pull while fielding.

But India's injury worries pale when compared to the blows the Aussies have taken. They landed in India a depleted side and things have only got worse for them.

The first three matches of the series have been sort of a statement by Dhoni's men - that they are ready to take over as the top ODI side of the world and incumbent Australia, laid low by spate of injuries, does not look in a position to halt their rampaging hosts.

So far, India have displayed the consistency that is the hallmark of every great team and bouncing back after losing the series opener speaks volume of their resilience.

And in the last two matches, the manner - and not merely the margin - of their victories suggest here is a team which can win from all positions.

In the Vadodara run-feast, India nearly completed a fairytale chase. The gap between the cup and lip was eventually bridged in Nagpur where they buried their opponents under a run-mountain and the Australians have not recovered from the shellacking yet.

The comprehensive win in Nagpur was followed by a clinical victory in Delhi and the six-wicket win on a low Ferozeshah Kotla track would do a world of good to India's booming confidence.

Back in the side after a while, Yuvraj Singh proved he is not just another mindless slogger who looks vulnerable against quality spinners on turning tracks. Dhoni, on his part, once again underlined his maturity and also his growing stature as a finisher.

Since the Vadodara defeat, there has been a marked improvement in all three areas which now look in apple-pie order.

Suddenly it's a pleasant scenario in the pace department with Ashish Nehra continuing to impress, Ishant Sharma returning to rhythm and Praveen Kumar among the wickets.

Among their slow bowl colleagues, Ravindra Jadeja has impressed so much that front-line spinner Harbhajan Singh suddenly finds himself under pressure.

Even Dhoni conceded the other day that Harbhajan is not at his best but the off-spinner has never lacked motivation against Australia and, as his captain hopes, is maybe just one game away from being his usual self which makes him such a dreaded opponent.

"Harbhajan is bowling well even though he has not picked that many wickets. But I think he bowled well today and gained lot of confidence. Hopefully he will deliver in the next few matches," Yuvraj said of his teammate.

Fielding is the other area where India has made rapid improvements after their slipshod show in Vadodara. Both ground fielding and catching have been impeccable so far.

The hosts have pulled up their socks in this department so much that the Australians, with a reputation for being a tidy fielding unit, have looked a lousy lot.

The improvement in these two departments notwithstanding, batting remains India's forte and Dhoni has few reasons to worry about the line-up.

Sachin Tendulkar is just 47 runs away from his 17,000th ODI runs and the batting great would like to finish the formalities here itself when he walks out to bat tomorrow.

His opening partner Virender Sehwag is also in good nick even though he has not been able to convert the cameos into match-winning scores.

"Viru has given us good starts in the last two games and I'm looking forward to a big century from him," Yuvraj said.

Yuvraj himself is in pristine form, pacing his innings in Delhi with amazing maturity that showed his batting is far from being one-dimensional.

"Some times I get this criticism from you guys that I cannot play well on such slow tracks. So it was great to prove you guys wrong," Yuvraj told reporters, flashing an impish smile.

In contrast, the mood in the Australian camp is of exasperation and the outfit looked jaded in absence of a number of front-line players.

The visitors had already flown in two last-minute replacements to shore up the side but the absence of Brett Lee has been felt in the last two matches.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting had no qualms admitting that injuries have made life difficult for him and he himself had to open the innings tomorrow in the absence of regular openers.

More than batting, injuries have laid bare the thinness of Australia's bowling resources and Ponting apparently doesn't have a quick solution in sight even though he insisted on putting the best foot forward.

"Injury has hit us hard. Lot of guys are in and out of the side. Brett (Lee) could play just one game before returning. Mitchell Johnson is only coming up now and James Hopes is not playing yet. But we have to try to get on with it and play the best game we can. We have to give 100 percent," a glum Ponting said.

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