November 17, 2001

England hope to have a good workout in tour opener

Mumbai has been the venue for more than one touring side facing the blushes in a warm up game. Australia were vanquished by a Sachin Tendulkar assault for Mumbai in 1998. In 2001 the giants from Down Under faltered again but did not go as far as losing. Both these encounters took place at the Cricket Club of India's Brabourne Stadium. It is however, the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai's premier venue that will play host to Nasser Hussain's England as their tour of India kicks off with the two-day clash against the Mumbai Cricket Association President's XI on Sunday.

Watching the England cricketers at the nets, it was difficult to keep out the thought that so many of these players were inexperienced and indeed untested in conditions of the kind you normally get in India. Nasser Hussain however, had a long net and seemed at ease, playing the sweep shot repeatedly to the spinners. The bowlers of course were a generous dose of local lads with the big boys of the England team only having a stint now and then.

The playing conditions for this game are quite different from any other - the two-day duration, the cap of 90 overs a side for the first innings and the fact that the day is split into three sessions of two hours each, beginning at 0930 local time, are a departure from tradition. The reduced length of the game might have had a definite bearing on the kind of pitch served up. Although by no means quick or bouncy, the pitch has a fair bit of grass on it, something that you do not normally see here in the subcontinent. Speaking to pressmen after a practice session, Hussain remarked, "The pitch is definitely unlike anything we expected to get in India. There's a bit of grass on it and the curator says it'll bounce and seam a bit. I think it will turn on the first day itself though, gripping the grass."

With the pitch out of the way, not posing any real problems, the matter of team selection becomes a bit more complicated. There can't be a horses for courses approach and England will be keen to give all their players some sort of match practice before the Test matches begin. "I've got about 90 percent of the side worked out in my head really," began Hussain when asked about his likely team. "I roughly know what my final team is going to look like. It's just that I don't have experience leading these lads." Hussain, along with Duncan Fletcher, will come up with the final playing eleven on the morning of the encounter.

For their part, the MCA President's XI are taking this match very seriously. Although there is an undercurrent of disappointment at the fact that the game is not of three days' duration, the hosts are going about the business of preparing in right earnest. The squad of fifteen were joined in the nets by Sameer Dighe, fresh from his return from South Africa. Nursing a back injury, Dighe returned from South Africa but has begun light exercises with the team. However, he was not named in the preliminary squad and hence is not in contention for a place in the side.

The MCA President's XI boasts four former India cricketers as of now. Vinod Kambli, who scored a double hundred against England back in 1993 leads the pack, with Sairaj Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni and Wasim Jaffer following closely. Jaffer, who is suffering from shoulder spasms, though is not 100 percent fit and his status will be evaluated on the morning of the match.

Coach of the MCA President's XI side, former India opening bat Lalchand Rajput, was quick to point out the importance of the game. "Naturally we would have preferred to have played a three-day game, but there is nothing we can do about that. We look at this as a great opportunity to get some match practice in before the start of the Ranji season."

Seemingly relaxed and confident, Rajput went on to add, "Our strength is basically our spin bowlers. We know the conditions well and this should help us." In conclusion, Rajput drew attention to something that has been a source for concern across the board - England's bowling. "Their attack is inexperienced and this will put them at a disadvantage," he said.

With just two days in which to showcase their wares, neither team is particularly keen on playing for a result. A match that is more academic in its scope than anything else, the MCA President's XI - England clash will provide an opportunity for batsmen to get a good stint out in the middle under their belts. England's batting looks in good health, with Trescothick, Butcher, Hussain, Thorpe, Vaughan and Ramprakash all fit and raring to go. The fact that Ashley Giles has not fully recovered from his surgery means that Matthew Hoggard with just two Test caps is the most experienced specialist bowler in the side. While that may not be good news for the visitors, you can be sure that Vinod Kambli is licking his lips, reliving the 224 he scored at this same venue against the English eight years ago.

The teams:

England (from):

Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Michael Vaughan, Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain, Mark Ramprakash, Warren Hegg, James Foster, Ashley Giles, Martyn Ball, James Ormond, Craig White, Matthew Hoggard, Richard Dawson, Richard Johnson and Usman Afzaal.

Mumbai Cricket Association President's XI (from):

Paras Mhambrey, Wasim Jaffer, Vinayak Mane, Vinod Kambli, Bhavin Thakkar, Amol Muzumdar, Kunal More, Abhijit Shetye, Sairaj Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni, Rajesh Pawar, Ramesh Powar, Avishkar Salve, Rupam Malviya, Sushanth Manjrekar and Nilesh Patwardhan.

Umpires: Shavir Tarapore and VN Kulkarni