India look to gain early momentum
With memories of 2007 Caribbean World Cup disaster, where they crashed out in the opening round after losing to Bangladesh in the first match, still fresh in their minds the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led side will be extra careful against the title holders Australia, who are coming into the tournament high on confidence after the 6-1 thrashing of England.
The day-night affair against Australia tomorrow will also be of high significance for India in the context of fitness of a few players, including the batting trio of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar, who are returning to the side after a short injury lay-off.
Sehwag, personally, would be looking to get back amongst runs, which eluded him in the Test series in South Africa that was followed by him missing the ODI series due to a shoulder injury, while Tendulkar, who also returned midway from the African nation because of a hamstring problem, will be eager to leave an impression in what probably is his last World Cup.
The match against Australia will also give an opportunity to middle-order batsmen Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to return to form.
The trio of Dhoni, Yuvraj and Raina all got starts in South Africa but failed to capitalise on them and would be desperate to return to form.
The match is of special importance for Raina, who face a tough competition from Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan, to retain his place in the playing eleven.
From the point of the bowlers, Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan would be looking forward to carry on their good work, while taking wickets is the only thing that will be on left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra`s mind going into the game.
For right-arm fast bowler S Sreesanth, who replaced injured Praveen Kumar in the last minute, it is an opportunity to impress upon the team management for the third seamer`s spot in the playing eleven.
The spin department, meanwhile, is in the safe hands of experienced off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. But the thing to watch out for is the healthy competition between proven customer R Ashwin and surprise inclusion Piyush Chawla.
Australia, on other hand, is high on confidence after avenging their Ashes series loss in the seven-match ODI series against England.
It is for the first time the Aussies have approached the World Cup on such a low-profile note despite being the champions in the last three editions of the mega-event, courtesy their humiliating Ashes defeat on the home turf.
But the Indians, considered as one of the favourites in the tournament, cannot afford to take Australia lightly in tomorrow`s practice match as skipper Ricky Ponting has already warned the opponents not to underestimate Aussies` abilities, especially in the World Cup, where they have an impeccable past record.
"I don`t really care where we start the tournament. It is irrelevant. I think going into the last World Cup there was negativity around us. We lost the Commonwealth Bank series in home and also lost to New Zealand before the last World Cup.
So there were a few doubts around our team but we went there and won the World Cup. I don`t think it really matters too much what`s happening in the lead up," Ponting had said.
Australian team has considerable amount of experience of playing in sub-continent conditions and also boasts a very good record here.
"We are pretty confident coming into the World Cup just beating a pretty good English side 6-1. We are in really good shape and confident. We have the momentum going around.
"There is no doubt that Australian cricket team has pretty good record in World Cup and bigger events but as I said we are not thinking about it right now. We have a really good squad and we will be doing everything to the best of our ability," Ponting said.
The Aussie skipper, who is returning after an injury lay-off that saw him miss the last Ashes Test and the entire ODI series against England due to broken finger, will be looking to get back into rhythm in the two practice games against India tomorrow and South Africa on February 15.
"My finger is doing pretty well. I am looking forward to play in the two practice games against India and South Africa," he said.
Both India and Australia are expected to test their 15 players in two practice games in the run-up to the World Cup.
Apart from a strong batting department which features the likes of Ponting, Shana Watson, Michale Clarke, in-form David Hussey, Cameron White and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, Australian team also has a formidable pace battery which will be spearheaded by rejuvenated and experienced Brett Lee.
However, the only worrying factor for Australia lies in its slow bowling department which does not have quality spinners.
Jason Krejza and all-rounder Steve Smith is expected to take up the responsibility of the spin department and the duo will ably supported by part-time spinners Clarke and Hussey.