January 18, 2002

India and England prepare for ODI action at Eden Gardens

Never expect the expected in India. As the one-day international series gets under way in front of some 100,000 people in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, tomorrow, there is no knowing how it will turn out.

Even the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly has said that England will be faced with "an astonishing experience" once they enter the field or, as it will seem to the tourists, the bear-pit of Eden Gardens. The noise, the atmosphere, is like nothing to be encountered anywhere in the rest of the cricketing world.

Ganguly, who will be playing in front of his home, adoring crowd, believes that it is impossible to prepare for such an experience.

"You won't be able to hear yourself think because the crowd is so loud. It is something they will never have experienced before.

"It becomes a bit of a problem captaining in one of these games because the other players cannot hear you. You have to rely on hand signals, and it's the same when you're batting."

Ganguly has been under pressure himself because of a lack of runs and criticism of his captaincy as India struggled to hold onto their lead in the last two Tests of the recently-concluded series. But one-day cricket is a different matter and he is expected to be back at the top of the order to open the innings with Sachin Tendulkar.

"I will open with Sachin as usual," he said. "We have been together for six years, and I think our style of batting means we complement each other.

"Sachin is a class act. I sometimes just enjoy being down the other end and watching him bat and I think we rotate the strike very well."

Meanwhile, Ganguly's opposite number, Nasser Hussain, sees the game and the series as part of the continuing build-up to, eventually, the World Cup in South Africa in 2003. Like a football manager who is keen to play down his side's chances he says, "We will only learn from the experience. This is why we play the game, big games like this, and we're all looking forward to it immensely.

"I'd rather be playing in front of a big crowd like this than in front of one man and a dog on a Monday in Chelmsford. Those with strong characters can come through tomorrow and show people that this is what they play the game for.

"You have to use it as a positive and the Indian crowd during the Test series were very appreciative of good cricket. They are a knowledgeable crowd and they enjoy their cricket and we have no problems with it.

Hussain, born in India himself, is not adverse at putting some pressure back on the home side in the war of words that always precede encounters like these. "There is also a lot of pressure on the Indian team. They have a few young players coming in, they are expecting to win this game in front of a big crowd and we've got to make sure we put them under the cosh in front of their home crowd."

The England camp admits that it is struggling to match other countries when it comes to experience of one-day international cricket. There are only four players in this squad who have played in excess of 50 such matches - Hussain himself, Darren Gough, Nick Knight and Graham Thorpe. This is an opportunity to test out not only the techniques of some of the younger players, but also their temperament.

"This side is not playing catch-up, this side is starting on its road," explained Hussain. "It's got some very young players and it has opportunities that maybe previous sides haven't had and it's up to them to take those opportunities.

"By that I mean not only learning from your victories but learning from your defeats, learning from the opposition, learning about pressure situations and learning about playing under lights.

"I fully believe this side will do well like we did in the Test matches, but that will come from heart and ticker tomorrow night. In a pressure situation with a lot of people watching it will be all about what they have inwardly rather than how many games and what talent they have."

Before they can bother about the mental and cricketing preparation, England have some last-minute physical matters to consider. Marcus Trescothick in particular suffered during yesterday's warm-up game with a 'flu-like virus, and Paul Collingwood is another who is not exactly in prime health after going down with a stomach bug.

Both, however, were able to train under the Eden Gardens lights in the final practice session and England will probably be prepared to go into the game with some players who might not be 100 per cent fit, but fit enough.

It is one of those things that happens in this part of the world, even with modern medical science on hand. It could well be that Trescothick and Collingwood wake up feeling great - and four other members of the team are struck down.

Rather than never expecting the expected, perhaps everyone should expect the unexpected. How, for instance, could anyone have forecast that there would be an attempt by a local to prevent the match taking place at all?

Kolkata resident, Mr. Subhas Dutta, made a plea in the High Court to the effect that to play under floodlights was a "malicious waste of electricity" while West Bengal suffers with an energy crisis. But the application for an injunction was thrown out. Thankfully - especially for Mr. Dutta, one suspects, in this cricket-crazy city - the game is on.