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Sri Lanka eyeing revenge

By K Kumaraswamy
December 09, 2005 14:52 IST
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India suffered a huge blow ahead of the second cricket Test against Sri Lanka with Virender Sehwag being ruled out, leaving the hosts grappling with the problem of finding a new opening combination for the crucial tie beginning at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi on Saturday.

Doctors have advised Sehwag, laid low by a throat infection and fever, against playing the match, which means that the home team were left with less than 24 hours to find a replacement at the top of the order.

With Gautam Gambhir being the only other specialist opener in the squad, the team management has no option but to promote a middle order batsman to take up the opening responsibility.

There was fitness concern surrounding captain Rahul Dravid, who was rested from the match-eve nets at the Palam grounds but the team management is hopeful that the captain, suffering from fever, will be fit.

Coach Greg Chappell refused to debate on who would lead the team with both captain and vice-captain down with illness.

"It is a hypothectical question. I don't want to answer that. If and when that happens, we will deal with it," he said.

Mohammad Kaif also left half way through the practice session but the team management said there was no issue there.

"Kaif went through all the drills, he is perfectly fine. He took the permission of the coach before leaving," team media manager Wg Cdr Baladitya said.

The fitness concerns in the Indian camp will be good news for the Sri Lankans, who scored a few psychological points over the Indians during the brief period of action possible in the rain-marred first Test in Chennai.

On a pitch that had absorbed gallons of water and kept low in bounce, the Sri Lankan bowlers bundled out the hosts for a paltry 167 and then batted nearly two sessions of the last day, agreeing to come off the field only after surpassing the Indian total for the loss of four wickets.

Having lost the limited overs series 1-6, it was a strong comeback by the islanders and sent a message to the Indian camp.

Particularly pleasing to the tourists must have been the return to form of Chaminda Vaas, who was off colour in the ODI series.

His wicket-to-wicket line that kept the Indian strokemakers tied down reflected the left arm seamer's better understanding of the conditions in the city that shares the Palk Strait with the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

Also notable was the run making form of Mahela Jayawardene and the stout defending of Thilan Samaraweera.

Jayawardene has been the scourge for the Indians on many occasions before but Dravid's men would not have missed Samaraweera's stout defending in an innings of 35 that spanned more than an hour and a half.

The Indians would recall that Samaraweera, 29, scored a century on debut against them in his home town of Colombo in 2001, a series they lost 1-2.

Typically, the Indians have sought to brush aside the Chennai performance when their batting failed to fire as an aberration.

"You should not read too much into what happened in Chennai. They are a good side. You have to give credit to the way they bowled on that wicket," India's leading wicket-taker Anil Kumble said.

Kumble's argument would hold water at least to the extent that the conditions at the two venues are vastly different.

The Kotla square, of which the 35-year old from Karnataka would have fond memories, has traditionally been witness to high scoring games, and should behave no differently this time around.

If the Ranji Trophy season opener three weeks back --when Mumbai's Wasim Jaffer struck a double ton -- is any pointer, the match could turn out to be a high-scoring affair.

That should be good news for Sachin Tendulkar who is looking for a world record 35th hundred to surpass Sunil Gavaskar's tally of 34, the most number of centuries by a batsman so far.

Tendulkar will also be playing in his 125th Test, the same as Gavaskar, when he steps on the field on Saturday. Only Kapil Dev has played more Tests, 131, for India.

The Mumbai maestro, who averages 38.44 with 346 runs from five matches in Delhi, would take inspiration from the fact that this was also the venue where Gavaskar cracked a sizzling 121 against the West Indian pace battery under Clive Lloyd -- who is the ICC Match Referee for the match -- in 1983 to equal Don Bradman's count of 29 hundreds in Tests.

A small amount of grass has been left on the wicket, which is basically to hold the top layer, and the moisture of the wintery morning could provide the conditions for the swing bowlers like Vaas and Irfan Pathan to excel.

It would be interesting to see what opinion the visitors arrive at on the pitch. Lasith Malinga, their fastest bowler with a round arm action, could turn out to be the surprise weapon in their armoury.

The venue has not been always kind to the hosts, as it turned out to be in the league match of the 1996 World Cup. And the opponents were none other than Sri Lanka.

Sanath Jayasuriya, who tore into the Indian bowling then, would be missed by the visitors who will be hoping Jayawardene, as also captain Marvan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara, make for the stalwart's absence.

There will also be the sub-plot of Sourav Ganguly trying to prove his point. Having shaked hands and put behind the bitter feud with coach Greg Chappell, Ganguly would be keen to get a few runs from his blade.

The former captain was seen providing some catching practice to coach Greg Chappell at the team nets on Friday. He would be hoping the ball finds the meaty portion of the blade in the match.

Teams (from):

India: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Kaif, MS Dhoni (wicket keeper), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Anil Kumble and RP Singh.

Sri Lanka: Marvan Atapattu (captain), Chaminda Vaas, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara (wicket keeper), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Avishka Gunawardene, Lasith Malinga, Sajeewa Weerakoon, Malinga Bandara, Jehan Mubarak.

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K Kumaraswamy
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