England take on Indian hopefuls at Jaipur
Their moment of reckoning is almost at hand. Nasser Hussain's England have just one more tour match to play before they take on India in the first Test at Mohali. The Sawai Man Singh Stadium in the picturesque frontier city of Jaipur plays host to the clash between England and India 'A.' The visitors arrived here early and appeared to be relaxed and looking forward to the match, while the Sunil-Joshi-led India 'A' are, in their own right, keen to make a mark.
The pitch at the Sawai Man Singh stadium, say experts, is a green-top, hard and bouncy. England however, would do well to eye it with a bit of suspicion. Despite local official Kishan Rungta's assurances that the pitch would be a sporting one, India are famous for showing off good pitches the day before the match, only to convert them to dusty tracks by the time the first ball is bowled.
A smiling Hussain was happy with the arrival of Andrew Flintoff. "Flintoff has arrived, and he's likely to play," said the Essex and England captain. Craig White, who is not one-hundred-percent fit, and has played the first two warm-up games, is likely to be replaced by the burly Lancashire all-rounder. But it was not Flintoff's selection that drew interest. Left-arm spinner Ashley Giles is likely to get his first match of the tour. "It's crunch time for Ashley Giles. He realises that he has to play and prove his fitness," said Hussain. With not much to speak of in terms of depth in spin bowling, with just Martyn Ball and Richard Dawson knocking on the doors, Giles is a certainty to play the Tests if fit.
Another left-arm spinner, Sunil Joshi, will play a key role in this match. Joshi, out of the Indian team for an extended spell, gets his best chance of making a comeback. With the possibility of India playing an extra spinner on top of the Anil Kumble-Harbhajan Singh combine, Joshi is hopeful of forcing his way into the team. "This is a very important match for me personally, and for the many youngsters in the team. I'm very happy with the way I'm bowling right now and am keen to catch the eye of the selectors," he said.
And he is perfectly right when he talks of youngsters trying to prod the selectors. After all, Rajasthan is not famous only for its fortresses and camels; it also boasts an opener called Gagan Khoda. With the selectors on the look-out for an opener, Khoda will unfurl his best attacking strokes. Unlike the other openers who have featured in the warm-up games so far, Khoda is a natural strokemaker.
The other opener on display, Vinayak Mane, is fortunate to have played against this bowling attack at Mumbai in the opening tour match. With that experience fresh in his mind, the short-statured Sachin-Tendulkar replica will look to outclass his counterpart.
As with the two games that have passed so far, the forthcoming match is a clutch game, with several players from the home teams vying for the slots of third spinner and opening batsman. England desperately need to clean up their act and end the match on a positive note. Whether they can do so or not will determine their psychological makeup when they take the field at Mohali.
England (from): Nasser Hussain (capt), Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Michael Vaughan, Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash, Craig White, Andrew Flintoff, Warren Hegg (wicket-keeper), James Foster (wicketkeeper), James Ormond, Matthew Hoggard, Richard Johnson, Richard Dawson, Martyn Ball, Ashley Giles and Usmaan Afzaal.
India A (from): Sunil Joshi (capt), Vinayak Mane, Gautam Gambhir, Gagan Khoda, Yerre Goud, RR Parida, Abhitjit Kale, Ajay Ratra (wicketkeeper), Reetinder Sodhi, Iqbal Siddiqui, Dodda Ganesh, Ramesh Powar, NP Singh, S Yadav