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November 13, 1999


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India, sans frontline bowlers, stays confident

Mrinal Talukdar in Guwahati

Despite the absence of three frontline bowlers, India starts on a confident note as it prepares to take on New Zealand in the fourth one dayer at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday.

For the first time, all the top three bowlers -- Kumble, Srinath, and Prasad -- are being rested ahead of the 76-day tour of Australia beginning November 22. Captain Tendulkar and coach Kapil, however, said they are confident of maintaining the winning streak.

Sachin was a shade cautious. "The series is still wide open and the victory margin of the last match was not comfortable enough. We have so far done well but we would not like to relax," he said.

With back to back victories in Hyderabad and Gwalior, the hosts are eager to wrap up the series on the placid wicket here, tailormade for batsmen. Their top three batsmen have cracked 150+ scores already, and they will look to build on that performance and try and win this one with the bat.

"The series is still wide open and the lead is not comfortable enough for us to relax. Tomorrow's match is too important for us. We would like to put extra effort in this match to wrap up the series," Sachin said after the morning nets.

When asked about the absence of the entire frontline attack and the presence of new faces, he said, "Regarding new boys, we have to get on at some stage. Mohanty and Agarkar did not play earlier. But they played well in Gwalior. I think this is the right time for them to exploit as they are a talented bunch. They have the potential. I just feel it is the matter of taking the right step forward."

When asked whether rookie T Kumaran would be inducted into the team he said, ''We will meet with the selectors in the evening and decide about the composition of the team. We will wait and see till the morning and then decide the final eleven."

Regarding a question whether he was taking this series as a preperation for the much tougher forthcoming series in Australia, he said that for him each series was different.

About Jadeja's fitness, Sachin said, "He is fine and it is not a major problem. Every player has some small injuries, but they are not alarming and we have to discuss with the physical trainer."

"We are here to win. If the wicket is dry then we may like to bat first," Sachin said, but Kapil added that the decision would depend on the weather.

The Indians are likely to bring back Joshi to replace Kumble. Gyanendra Pandey, flown down to replace Kumble, is unlikely to get a game here since he joined the team only this afternoon.

The Indian attack would be spearheaded by Ajit Agarkar and Debasish Mohanty. Agarkar made a resounding comeback at Gwalior as he not only contained the free-stroking Kiwis but in the slog overs took the match away from them with a series of swinging yorkers which left the Kiwi tailenders cramped for striking space.

However, for Mohanty it was a difficult ball game. He gets another opportunity to impress his coach and captain, although he did not bowl well in Gwalior giving away 38 runs in 5 overs. In fact rookie T Kumaran could also be tried by Kapil. "We will discuss the matter with the selectors later in the day and finalise the playing XI tomorrow morning," he said.

For the Kiwis, a win here is a must if they hope to stay alive in a series they are trailing two games to one.

The Kiwis are particularly worried about the failure of the middle order, with even the captain himself not being in the best of form. Opener Nathan Astle, on the plus side, has been in good touch and is in fact a front-runner for the Fiat Sienna to be given to the Man of the Series.

Chris Harris is likely to play a big role, given that the wicket here is a bit on the slow side. The last vestiges of grass have been mown off, and the outfield is heavy thanks to excessive rain during this monsoon season. The ground staff thus expect scores around the 240-260 mark.

"This is one of the typical one-day wickets for batsmen. However, here the match will start early and it will be somewhat different," said Kapil who, along with Rahul Dravid, had a close look at the track.

"The outfield has remained soft because of the rain and all efforts to dry it out have gone in vain," said Sunil Barua, curator of the ground. The ground staff feel that the early morning start, plus dew, should help bowlers in the first hour. The game is scheduled to start at 0845 hours, considering the fact that it is the Eastern-most venue and the sun rises earlier in comparison to the rest of the country.

Statistics showed that the team batting second had done better on this venue. Out of the eight matches played on this surface, the team batting second has won five teams. India has a good record here, having won three of the five games it has played at this venue.

Both teams, at the request of match referee Ranjan Madugalle, have also agreed to a reduced lunch time of half an hour.

''The Indian top order is our biggest problem. We are worried over that part'', said Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming adding that he missed the services of Dion Nash and Craig McMillian.

Fleming also admitted that his team was tired by the end of the tour now, but added that they would give everything to win the match and level the series tomorow.

Mail Sports Editor