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Batter up, as India ready for key tie
Faisal Shariff in Durban | February 25, 2003 21:52 IST
In a friendly game of volleyball at the Indian nets this morning, the batsmen were beaten by the bowlers as coach John Wright watched keenly.
The coach will however not wish for bowlers getting the upper hand tomorrow -- which is when his batsmen will square up to the England bowlers in a crucial Group A game under lights at Newlands, Durban.
Wright had, earlier in the tournament, been somewhat upset with the batsmen -- and that is an understatement. At the start of a team meeting following India's humilitation at the hands of Australia, the coach ordered all the batsmen out of the room, as his way of registering his displeasure at the way they played.
The coach's private censure, and the more public censure of fans back home -- admittedly, expressed in a regrettable fashion -- appears to have had a positive effect; suddenly, there is a hunger for runs, a determination to stay out in the middle, that was lacking before.
A win against England tomorrow could book a ticket to the Super Six stage for the Indians. History has a strange way of repeating itself -- four years ago, it was a win against the same opponents that saw India scrape through to the Super Six stage in the World Cup staged in England.
With three wins out of four games played, India is one win short of moving to the next stage -- and will play England and arch-rivals Pakistan in their last two games of the preliminary stage. To lose to England will make the March 1 game at the Centurion, against Pakistan, decisive -- and both captain Saurav Ganguly and the coach want to avoid that, and to book their berth before they take on Pakistan.
Meanwhile the batsmen, who have finally found themselves among the runs, appear finally to have laid the ghosts of New Zealand to rest. Wright, former captain of New Zealand, said that the wickets the Indians played on there were the worst he had ever seen in his life, either in his country or anywhere else for that matter.
But before it could be laid, the batsmen suffered one final embarassment. Two weeks ago, playing the senior KwaZulu Natal side at Chatsworth, skipper Saurav Ganguly walked into the Natal dressing room and asked if, in the interests of getting some practise, the teams could play another 25-overs a side game after the ongoing match had ended.
This request was made against the background of Natal having scored just 190 for nine in the allotted 50 overs. The Indians assumed that they would hit up the runs in a hurry, and were looking for more practise -- but as it happened, the Indian batsmen managed just 158 before being shot out in 38.2 overs by an ordinary bowling attack.
The team now hopes -- and to an extent believes -- that all that is behind them; that the corner has been turned, and that from here on, it is an upward curve.
It will need to be -- the game coming up in less than 24 hours from now is vital to India's hopes of further progress.
Both captains played down any question of rivalry stemming from their encounters in the recent past -- it will be recalled that India first pulled off a stunning come-from-behind win against England in the NatWest Trophy final at Lord's, then bludgeoned the England bowlers into submission in a league game in the Champions' Trophy in Sri Lanka later.
"There's no grudge game against India," England skipper Nasser Hussain said. "Cricket between England and India has been of the highest quality. Expect tomorrow to be the same.
" This will probably be a much closer game than those played by either side in recent times. There haven't been many pressure moments for both teams."
Ganguly said that there was no needle between the two sides and that he and Hussain got on well off the field. He refused to pick any player as the key element in the contest, though the view on the ground is that the key to the game lies in how the Indian batting copes with an England seam attack comprising of the experienced Andrew Caddick, the pacy and successful James Anderson, the accurate Andy Flintoff and the sharp seamer Craig White.
The Indian think-tank is aware that the English bowling strategy will be to bowl short of length and a foot outside off-stump; the English will ensure that they don't give the Indians anything on driving length.
Ganguly admitted that dropping Anil Kumble from the playing eleven is always a tough decision -- more so given the record the leg spinner has on this ground (10-0-45-2; 10-1-24-0 in two outings). However, the team is sticking with the plan of playing three seamers and one spinner -- a decision that in fact was taken even before the Cup got under way.
Thus, if Ashish Nehra is unable to take the field tomorrow, said Ganguly, Ajit Agarkar will play.
"That can be a good thing. You learn things when you are out of the team, and he'll be fresh for the game tomorrow," said the skipper, who has come across as a man far more at ease with himself and the world after his century in the previous game against Namibia broke an extended run-drought.
Rahul Dravid enjoys a great record on the ground ---- this is the venue on which he hit Proteas pace ace Allan Donald for a four, took a mouthful of abuse, and responded by slapping him for a six en route to a top-score of 84 off 94 balls in the 1997 SBI ODI finals -- was hoping to make runs again at the venue, and back it up with some good keeping.
Dravid in fact had a quick session with current national selector and former India keeper Kiran More -- who gave him a few pointers to the importance of timing his movements at the point of delivery.
England will bank heavily on their top three batsmen, though their middle-order is packed with all-rounders Flintoff, Collingwood and White.
Ajit Agarkar's inclusion in the likely absence of Nehra will strengthen the batting and lift the fielding, a crucial factor on a small ground where stopping singles and cutting off boundaries assumes importance.
The ground has seen crisp, short innings rather than marathons -- and one factor responsible is the heat and humidity. Out of 43 half-centuries scored here, only six have translated into hundreds. Under lights the record gets even worse -- only one century has been recorded here, by Adam Gilchrist against South Africa last April and it shouldn't count, really, because Gilchrist doesn't spend enough time at the crease to even begin to feel the weather.
India is looking to Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath taking out Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan early -- the belief being that if that can be done, England will struggle to touch 250. And though both the skipper and the coach said that they don't worry too much about the toss, they both realize the importance of getting the coin falling in their favour tomorrow afternoon. Just as they know there is no way to ensure that it does indeed fall favorably.
A lighter moment occured during the media briefing when former England medium-pacer Derek Pringle asked Ganguly if viewers on television would get another sighting of his manly torso in the event of an India win tomorrow -- a gentle jibe at Ganguly's striptease on the balcony of Lord's after the NatWest Trophy win.
Ganguly paused. And then muttered "Wait and watch", before exiting.