Saturday, February 16, 2008

Will Lee's absence bring India an edge

It remains to be seen if India can take advantage of Brett Lee's absence as they take on Australia for the third time in the league phase of the CB Series at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday. Lee earns a well-deserved rest after working tirelessly to establish himself as the bowler of the season, taking 40 wickets in six Tests and eight in the triangular ODI tournament so far. His absence could be a significant plus for an Indian team which has been pushed to second place after Australia's convincing win against Sri Lanka in Perth on Friday.

After his magnificent five-for in the series opener at the Gabba that destroyed the Indian top order, Lee managed just one wicket in each of the next three games, but he has posed plenty of problems with his pace and movement. Keeping in mind the long summer and the fact that the tournament has just reached the halfway mark, the Australian management thought it would be wiser to preserve their most precious bowler instead of overburdening him.

Mitchell Johnson, who might get the new ball in Lee's absence, admits a mini break is a good move for him. "Brett's having a well-deserved rest. It's very important. I had a break during the Twenty20 game against India earlier in the month, and understand that rest periods are very good for the bowlers," Johnson said as Australia arrived in Adelaide after earning their second bonus point of the tournament.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain, believes the Australian firepower doesn't diminish in Lee's absence. "They are a good bowling side with or without Lee. They've the power to get batsmen out," Dhoni said as his team came out for their third and final practice session before the game. Dhoni agreed it was an important encounter and indicated that India still hold the edge in the wake of their five-wicket victory against Australia in Melbourne.

It's difficult to ascertain which of the two teams have the momentum, but Dhoni based his confidence on the fast-improving performances of his young batsmen and bowlers. "The bowlers have taken up the responsibility and raised the level of their performance. Now the key is to be consistent."

The batsmen haven't always done the job, but Dhoni said he was willing to persevere with the out-of-form players. Yuvraj Singh heads that list, but given the importance of the game, the Indian think-tank will probably opt for his experience. "We'll look at the others but it is important to look at the series and what the best possible XI is," Dhoni said. One of the batting reserves - probably Manoj Tiwary - might still get a look-in if Virender Sehwag, who is battling a side strain, doesn't recover in time. A final decision will only be taken on the morning of the match.

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