December 2, 2002

India wary of the need to produce wins for fans at home

The touring Indian cricketers will keep one eye on the approaching World Cup, and the other looking after the interests of the supporters at home, according to Sourav Ganguly, the captain, and John Wright, the coach, when the Indians arrived in Auckland today.

India will start their National Bank tour with a Super Max International against New Zealand's Max Blacks on Wednesday night, a three-day warm-up game against Central Districts and then two Tests and seven One-Day Internationals against New Zealand.

Ganguly said he would regard the two Tests against New Zealand equally as important as the seven one-dayers which will be the dress-rehearsal for the World Cup in February-March.

He said this after being reminded that India had not won a Test series in New Zealand since 1967/68, and had a 4-6 winning Test record in New Zealand.

"We have played well this year - we will try our best," said Ganguly.

Wright agreed that his team's build-up during the last year had been good, and the Indians already had the core of their World Cup squad in place.

"Maybe we are still looking at one or two players," said Wright, "but we have our pattern and personnel fairly well settled and I am happy with our progress."

Wright said it would not disturb the team to have the World Cup squad named by December 31, after two Tests and two of the seven one-dayers.

"I do not think that will be embarrassing for the players, naming the Cup side in mid-tour. We have identified the players we want for the Cup, and maybe there could be only one or two places up for grabs."

It seems likely that Rahul Dravid, the princely batsman, will be the one-day wicket-keeper. Dravid gave the impression that he accepted the task as it was necessary to the one-day team's balance.

Wright said that the master batsman Sachin Tendulkar had recovered from the hamstring strain which kept him out of the recent one-day series against West Indies, and would lead a formidable batting line-up.

"In terms of batting we are a strong side," said Wright. "We have put the runs on the board and proved we are formidable not only in India where we have our brilliant spin bowling, but also away from home.

"It was, for example, most pleasing that during our tour of England there were two Test pitches that did a bit, at Nottingham and Leeds. We managed to bat well on those two pitches - conditions that could be similar to those we find in New Zealand."

In his two years as India's coach Wright said he had become aware of the importance of the team's success.

"There is really a lot at stake. There might not be any difficulty for all of us to focus on the time and work we put in.

"But we have the huge responsibility to the people at home in India. They love their cricket, they rejoice at our victories, and they are what we try to give them."

For once India will not have a wrist-spinner in their bowling armoury.

Anil Kumble, the top India bowler with 349 Test wickets, will not be here to bowl his top-spinners in the Tests, but will play in the later one-dayers.

Harbhajan Singh, the off-spinner (139 Test wickets) will lead the spin attack, with support from Murali Kartik, the 26-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner, who has taken nine wickets in four Tests and has been recalled to the side after a year's absence.

Wright said that Virender Sehwag, the dashing opening batsman, was a useful spinner, and Tendulkar "can bowl anything."