India face the heat, in more ways than one
Anil Kumble had just come off a two-hour training session at the Chittagong Divisional Stadium and was waiting for the press conference to begin when he made this request to the journalists who'd surrounded him: "No point, third man, please... only down the ground, covers, midwicket, long-off, long-on. If you surround me, I will start getting cramps even before the match."
He was speaking only half in jest; the journalists were cutting off what little breeze was coming his way - and, in these parts, any hint of breeze is a lifeline. After two days of non-stop rain, the sun has started beating down and the resulting humidity has turned Chittagong into a giant sauna.
For India's cricketers, it's yet another hurdle on what is already a tough tour. And the "fresh legs" of Kumble, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Wasim Jaffer and VRV Singh - all of whom have been drafted in specifically for the Test series - will have to work doubly hard to pep up a team that looked tired in the one-dayers.
Kumble acknowledged the heat factor, saying it would be crucial in the two-match series. "It's pretty hot. The team that copes with the heat better will come out on top," he said. Given that the wicket doesn't look like offering much to the pace bowlers, India may need to go with two spinners. That means Kumble will have to shoulder a large part of the bowling and, if either Ramesh Powar or Rajesh Pawar is played, oversee the development of a new spinner. "They are both good bowlers. They have both been playing domestic cricket for five to six years," Kumble said. "It's good to see them coming through. Ramesh has done well with whatever limited opportunities he has got."
Will Kumble miss bowling in tandem with Harbhajan Singh? "Definitely, Bhajji has been a quality bowler," he said, "And with his quality, I don't see him sitting out of the squad for too long. As I said, though, the two spinners that we have come with a lot of domestic experience and will surely come in handy."
The Indian team put in more than two hours of training in the hotter part of the day today. They have their task cut out on Thursday: Settling on an opening pair and figuring out the ideal bowling combination. The Test squad hasn't had any practice games, and the two-hour sessions are all it has to get a measure of conditions and to see who is looking good. The squad doesn't have a specialist opener other than Wasim Jaffer and, if Dinesh Karthik opens, one batsman from the middle-order of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Laxman faces being dropped. The heat is on in more ways that one.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine