DLF Cup – Series Preview

Australia haven’t appeared in an international cricket fixture in Malaysia since the 1998 Commonwealth Games, but the DLF Cup tri-series with India and the West Indies that begins tomorrow is nevertheless considered a home event for the World Cup holders. The appearance of cricket at the Commonwealth Games 8 years ago was generally considered to be a failure, with many teams sending substandard sides, poor quality wickets resulting in low scoring affairs, and mediocre players dominating. This series should prove to be a significant improvement however, providing an interesting preview to the Champions Trophy for the holders and two of the favourites, and a chance for some crowd pleasing entertainment in a fringe cricketing nation.

Adelaide Oval legend Les Burdett is preparing the wickets in line with Australia’s home team status, but the conditions in Malaysia will be foreign to most players involved. While the sticky, clay-based wickets of 1998 are unlikely, fast bowlers can expect some assistance from the muggy conditions and batsmen should be well tested. Brett Lee has already expressed his excitement at the possibility the ball will “swing round corners”. Furthermore, Australia and India are currently rated the two most likely nations to win the upcoming Champions Trophy by most betting agencies, and this series will be the first time the two teams have met in ODIs since early 2004. For the West Indies it is a crucial step on their path to defending the trophy they won in a shock result in 2004.

The Format
Six ODIs, totaling four per team, followed by a final between the two table leaders.

12th September – Australia vs West Indies
14th September – India vs West Indies
16th September – Australia vs India
18th September – Australia vs West Indies
20th September – India vs West Indies
22nd September – Australia vs India
24th September – Final

All matches will be played in Kuala Lumpur.

The Squads
Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey (vice-captain), Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Michael Clarke, Mark Cosgrove, Dan Cullen, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hogg, Phil Jaques, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson.

Rahul Dravid (captain), Ajit Agarkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Dinesh Mongia, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Ramesh Powar, Suresh Raina, Virender Segwag, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh.

West Indies
Brian Lara (captain), Ramnaresh Sarwan (vice-captain), Carlton Baugh, Ian Bradshaw, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Corey Collymore, Fidel Edwards, Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Runako Morton, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor.

Who To Watch?
Australia – Mitchell Johnson
Australia’s form in one dayers in the last 12 months is not quite what it was in the past, with individual matches being lost in every series except for the Super Series against the World XI, and a 3-2 series loss under amazing circumstances in South Africa. Despite a maximum of just 5 possible matches in the DLF Cup, Australia have selected a sizable squad of 18, indicating that this series will be one in which Cricket Australia experiment with the lineup and seek the best combination of players for the Champions Trophy and the World Cup next year. In light of this, the performance of Mitchell Johnson is crucial. Johnson has been watched closely by the Australian selectors since Dennis Lillee called him a “once in a generation” bowler as a 17 year old, but it has only been in the last year that he has begun to live up to his massive potential. Johnson grabbed a 10 wicket haul on a flat wicket in the 2005 Pura Cup final, then broke into the international side with three solid performances in one dayers in Bangladesh. Since his last outing for the senior side, Johnson has also impressed for Australia ‘A’ in the Top End Series, and his efforts in training with the Australian team have led Ricky Ponting to suggest that he will be a force in international cricket for years to come. A tall, quick left-armer, Johnson is likely to appear regularly during the DLF Cup, and with conditions expected to suit his much-hyped swing bowling he has the chance to cement himself a place in the Champions Trophy and World Cup squads.

India – Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar’s form and fitness have been one of the most discussed issues in cricket over several lean years for the Indian veteran, and once again a series buildup for the Indian side has been overshadowed by Tendulkar’s own preperation. Greg Chappell has declared the highest run scorer in ODI history fit and ready to play for this series, and a solid performance in a warmup match with his teammates seems to back that up. However, there have been a number of occasions in recent years that Tendulkar has seemed about to return to his brilliant best only to be cut down again by injury or poor form, and only runs in international cricket are likely to silence his critics. At his best, Tendulkar is one of the great one day batsmen, and if India are to be mount a serious challenge in next year’s World Cup he will need to play a part. With the Champions Trophy in front of a home crowd looming, the DLF Cup presents a perfect opportunity for Tendulkar to put his most recent injury problems behind him and find some touch. Needless to say, a strong series for Tendulkar also makes an Indian appearance in the final a likely event.

West Indies – Ramnaresh Sarwan
Ramnaresh Sarwan doesn’t possess the name recognition of Brian Lara or explosive shot making of Chris Gayle, but he is nevertheless one of the finest one day cricketers the West Indies has to offer. An average in excess of 45 in more than 100 ODIs is something few batsmen can boast, and Sarwan is one of the most consistent batsmen in the world in the shorter form. Appearing down the order, Sarwan provides a stablising influence to a sometimes fragile batting lineup, and as the vice-captain for this series he now shoulders further responsibility. Aside from his importance to the West Indian search for victory, an added point of interest for Sarwan in this series in his hugely contrasting history against the two opposition nations. India is comfortably Sarwan’s favourite nation to face in ODIs, and he boasts an average in excess of 70 against them along with his career highest score of 115. Sarwan also played a crucial role in the 4-1 series win against India earlier this year. By contrast, Sarwan’s performances against Australia are one of the few things preventing him from recieving recognition as one of the world’s best one day batsmen, with just one half-century against the World Champions in 10 matches. While the West Indies enter this series as slight underdogs, a good performance from Sarwan could help them qualify for the final and get a perfect start to next month’s Champions Trophy defence.

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