Indians keep fingers crossed

The Indian all-rounder Praveen Kumar could be vital as his captain MS Dhoni will wait until the last minute to bolster his batting or bowling options against West Indies.

India's Praveen Kumar reacts after missing a run out opportunity during the ICC Champions Trophy cricket match against Australia in Pretoria, September 28, 2009. REUTERS/Rogan Ward (SOUTH AFRICA SPORT CRICKET) *** Local Caption ***  RW03_CRICKET-CHAMPI_0928_11.JPG
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It is cricket's equivalent of Earth Day, the time in every tournament when India make their contribution to reversing the effects of climate change. If Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side fail to beat the West Indies today - indeed, thrash them by the required amount and also hope their great rivals, Pakistan, do them a favour against Australia - they will slide out of the Champions Trophy. And off will go the best part of half-a-billion television sets.

Energy-efficient it may be, but it is not something any Indian supporter likes to even contemplate. Their defeat to England in the World Twenty20 at Lord's in June, which meant they sacrificed their grip on that trophy, was watched by the largest TV audience for a cricket match. Knowing that you have ruined that many people's day must be tough, but Dhoni retains a philosophical outlook. "Losing and winning is part and parcel of any sport," he said. "It's enough for me that I am playing for my country and am leading the side which not everybody gets a chance to do."

When their match with Australia in Centurion on Monday was abandoned due to rain, it put India in an almost impossible position. If Ricky Ponting's Australians beat Pakistan they will go through as the top side in Group A, with Younus Khan's side taking the second slot. However, if Australia lose to Pakistan and India beat West Indies, fetch the calculator. For India to advance, they need a 104-run swing between their net run-rate and Australia's.

For example, if Australia lose by 51 runs and India win by 54 - the more likely of the two given their weaker opponents - Dhoni's side will advance. Adding further intrigue, Pakistan and Australia commence their duel in Centurion five hours before the first delivery is sent down in India's game against West Indies at the Wanderers. Dhoni said his plans were to remain fluid. "We will delay our team selection," he said.

"It depends on how the match is progressing. If we need to strengthen our batting we would do so. If we need the bowling to get stronger, we would do that. We will just try to keep the players motivated. "Whatever happens, it is beyond our control. We will ask them to think about the things that they can do or achieve in this game." All of India wants the team to do well. Knowing that Pakistan's win earlier in the day is so important, they all would be cheering for Pakistan.

The West Indies players, many of whom made the squad after a boycott by the senior players, are looking forward to sharing the field with their idol, Sachin Tendulkar. Their captain, Floyd Reifer, said: "A lot of our boys have watched him on television and seen how good he is. It would be a challenge bowling to him and get him out. It would do any young bowler a world of good."