Australia not looking to experiment against Canada
The Big Picture
As Ricky Ponting was leaving the press conference, a scribe offered a friendly bit of advice: "Please bowl first, mate." Ponting turned, smiled and said, "Ha! Bowl first eh?" before gliding out of view. Despite Ireland's commendable performance, and two honourable fights by Canada and Kenya, Australia taking on an Associate still makes people wonder how long the game will last. A tired journalist's view is, "Canada bat first, get bowled out for a paltry score, let the chase be done with and let's hit the pub". It's a view that might be shared by Australian fans too, though they might want to see the spinners do a better job, and Ricky Ponting hit form with a big innings. The underdog fan might want a minor miracle. What about the players?
Ashish Bagai, Canada's captain, was asked a direct question about it: Will Canada try to play 50 overs and be satisfied with the honor earned in doing that? If he found it condescending, or realistic, Bagai didn't show it. He just laughed a laugh that was open to interpretation before saying, "This is our last game. We will like to end it with a win. We will try doing that".
For his part, Ponting said, "The time for experiments is over. We have three games in a week's time before the quarters and we want to be playing at our best. We are looking to win tomorrow's game comfortably."
For Canada this as big as it gets. It is their final appearence on this stage before they disappear for four more years, and maybe more, depending on the ICC's designs for 2015. It is also John Davison's last game and Canada are thinking about the possibility of sending him to open. It will also be the last sighting of Bagai, a fabulous wicketkeeper, and Balaji Rao, a legspinner who has dared to flight, drift, and turn, something uncommon in the bigger teams.
Australia's 33-match unbeaten run in World Cups is unlikely to end tomorrow but they have to iron out a few wrinkles. Ponting's form hasn't been too flash and he knows it. "I would have liked to score more runs in the game against Zimbabwe but was run out. The other games too were the same. Getting 30 or 40 is not what you are after; you have to make big scores. Since we have not played too many games, we are out of touch." The spinners haven't set the world on fire as Ponting said the other day. Their batsmen will also be tested by Rao.
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Watch out for...
Bagai's wicketkeeping: MS Dhoni is the best at stumpings and Kumar Sangakkara is solid all round but Bagai has looked the most fluent and natural keeper in the competition. He is quick on his feet, uses soft hands, has a wonderful anticipation, and oozes confidence when he stands up to the medium-pacers. Of course Canada rarely get close to winning, and so we will never know how good Bagai is in pressure situations, but there is enough skill to make you watch him keep.
After Shahid Afridi, Balaji Rao has to be the one of the best legspinners out there. While Afridi snares his victims with sliders and variations in pace, Rao tries to treat your senses. The slow amble to the crease, the ripping release, the courage to flight, the ability to get it to drift, and the turn he can extract, makes him a neat package to watch.
When Brad Haddin is at his best, he reminds you of Damien Martyn, especially when he unfurls that silky drive through extra cover. The problem is he suddenly changes into Shane Watson. For a man who can time the ball so well, he often goes hard at the ball and tries to crash it up and over the field. Perhaps he still sees himself as a wicket keeper-batsman, whose job is to score quick runs, rather than a top-class batsman. Ponting urged him to convert his starts and that's a sign that the captain wants Haddin to have higher ambitions.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is the same one on which Australia played Kenya. So it is bound to get slower and aid turn. It will be interesting to see how the Australian batsmen fare against the spinners.
Considering the workload in playing three games in quick succession, Australia are likely to rest Shaun Tait and give John Hastings a go.
Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Brad Haddin (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Cameron White, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Steven Smith, 8 John Hastings, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Jason Krejza
Canada (probable): 1 Hiral Patel, 2 John Davison, 3 Zubin Surkari, 4 Ashish Bagai (wk), 5 Jimmy Hansra, 6 Rizwan Cheema, 7 Ruvindu Gunasekara/Parth Desai, 8 Harvir Baidwan, 9 Khurram Chohan, 10 Henry Osinde, 11 Balaji Rao
Stats and trivia
Ricky Ponting is only player to have scored 1000 World-cup runs as a captain. He is the second after Tendulkar to score over 1600 runs in World Cups.
Ashish Bagai is third captain-wicketkeeper to score fifty on two or more occasions in the World Cup. Kumar Sangakkara and Alec Stewart are other two.
"We don't have any time to worry about experimentation and getting our skills right. It's about going full steam and playing the brand of cricket that holds good in bigger games"
Ricky Ponting stresses Australia won't take this game lightly.
"Balaji Rao has done really well for us in this tournament, right from the warm-up games. He brings great value in the dressing room too and mentors the other young spinners."
I would say Canada is the only team to experiment against. Oh well, w/e Mr. Ponting wants!