Mohali: A scrappy India will have to lift their game by several notches against an improving Australia when the two fierce rivals clash in a virtual quarter-final match of the ICC World T20 in Mohali on Sunday.
India, who were the overwhelming favourites going into the tournament, have been far from convincing in the three games they have played so far. The inaugural edition champions began their campaign with a 47-run crushing defeat against New Zealand before bouncing back with a six-wicket win over arch-rivals Pakistan.
But the home side would have found themselves in a precarious situation if it was not for a self destructive Bangladesh and a brilliant sprint run-out from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the previous game which they won by a mere one run.
Australia, on the other hand, have been improving with every game and a convincing win against Pakistan in a must-win match in Mohali on Friday have prepared them well for another knock-out battle.
James Faulkner and Shane Watson think playing India in their own backyard is the ultimate challenge but the home team also knows they have a daunting task at hand on Sunday.
India, however, will take confidence from the fact that they blanked Australia in Australia in the three-match series in January, even though they played against a different squad back then.
In any case, another close contest is expected between the two tough rivals at the I S Bindra Stadium which is expected to be fully packed. India's star-studded batting have been below par starting with the performance of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who are yet to fire in the competition.
Star batsman Virat Kohli will be key to India's chances again but the others too need to rise to the occasion. Suresh Raina scored a 30 against Bangladesh but he is facing the heat alongside Yuvraj Singh, who will have the added pressure of performing at his home ground.
The bowlers have done a decent job especially the spin combine of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
The nail-biter against Bangladesh was also a good test for youngsters like Jaspreet Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, who did
well to bounce back and help India clinch a thriller. The experienced Ashish Nehra has been tidy in his four overs.
The Mohali pitch may not offer a lot of turn but the Indian spinners will play a big role in Sunday's game. The batsmen, who fell to spin against New Zealand, will have to negotiate the likes of Adam Zampa. The rookie-leg spinner has provided crucial strikes in the last two games and won the confidence of his skipper Steven Smith.
Fielding is another area where India must improve after an ordinary effort against Bangladesh. Australia are in good spirits after the win against Pakistan in a high-scoring match. Opener Usman Khawaja has been in top form and Smith and Watson were back amongst the runs on Friday.
They have played a game in Mohali and have already adjusted to the conditions. It remains to be seen what opening combination Australia go with on Sunday.
Khawaja and Watson opened in the first two games before Aaron Finch joined Khawaja against Pakistan. The experiment of pushing the dangerous David Warner down the order has not worked for the Australians so far.
Australia: Steven Smith (c), Shane Watson, David Warner, Ashton Agar, James Faulkner, John Hastings, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, Aaron Finch, Nathan Coulter-Nile.
India: India: MS Dhoni (c,wk), Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane.