All eyes on Krejza, India's seamers
Two fancied teams, India and Australia, play their first World Cup warm-up match on Sunday, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. It is an inconsequential game as far as the result goes, but there are some points of interest in the contest.
Two fancied teams, India and Australia, play their first World Cup warm-up match on Sunday, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. It is an inconsequential game as far as the result goes, but there are some points of interest in the contest
India's lower-middle order
Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan are fighting for the No. 6 and 7 spots. All three have been getting games in recent series due to the absence of some of the seniors at the top of the order, but one of them will have to be benched in the World Cup. Current form suggests it will be Raina, since Kohli was India's most assured batsman in the one-dayers in South Africa, and Yusuf has repeatedly shown what a destructive force he can be lower down the order. Raina, though, is expected to fare better on the flat tracks likely to be served up in the subcontinent. Which of the trio misses out in Dhaka in a week's time could be decided by the performances in the warm-ups.
The return of Punter
Entering his third campaign as captain, Ricky Ponting is yet to lead Australia to a loss in a World Cup match. With the legends of past World Cup triumphs retired, and his own batting rarely hitting the imperious heights of old, this will be his toughest World Cup at the helm. A finger injury has sidelined him since the Boxing Day Test, forcing him to be away from the game for a month, a break which Ponting says has refreshed him. He has played only one ODI since July, has only three centuries in the format in three years, and there have been several calls for him to give up the captaincy. Sunday's game will be the first chance to remove some of the question marks.
Heavyweights at the top
India's batting order starts with three of the biggest names in the game: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. The talent, experience and firepower they provide forms the bedrock of the strongest batting unit in the tournament, but all three are returning from injuries (Sehwag - shoulder, Gambhir - elbow and Tendulkar - hamstring). One other slight concern is the lack of match practice in the format in recent times: the trio has played only seven ODIs between them in the past five months, and hasn't been in a one-dayer together since December 2009. Match fitness and their slightly changed roles when all three are present will be things to work on at the Chinnaswamy.
Few things caused as much mirth for England fans as Australia's muddle-headed picks in the slow-bowling department over the past few months. With their two preferred options - Nathan Hauritz and Xavier Doherty - out injured, their frontline spinner for the World Cup is Jason Krejza, a man with all the experience of one ODI. His performance on Test debut, in India, two years ago was the definition of a mixed bag; he took 12 wickets while shipping 358 runs. There's support for him in the form of young legspinner Steven Smith, and a wealth of part-timers - David Hussey, Cameron White and Michael Clarke - but in a tournament where quality spinners are likely to be game-changers, how Krejza adapts to the subcontinent will be pivotal to Australia's chances.
The Indian quicks
Less than a week ago, Sreesanth thought his only contribution to the World Cup campaign would be a song he wrote and dedicated to the Indian team. Praveen Kumar's slower-than-expected recovery from an elbow injury signalled an 'I am back' tweet from Sreesanth, though whether he will make the XI remains uncertain. Over the past year, India have had three quicks who were definite starters when fit - Praveen, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. With Praveen injured, and Nehra's form taking an alarming dip in the previous two series, Zaheer is the only one absolutely certain of his place. Nehra has a solid record over the past two years, Munaf Patel has shown he can be a steady option when given a one-day chance, and Sreesanth has more pace than anyone else in the squad. Another conundrum which the Indian selectors will solve over the two warm-up matches coming up.