India vs West Indies, 2006-07 January 18, 2007

India seek to capitalise on Ganguly's net gains

Ganguly returns to Nagpur where he controversially pulled out of a series-deciding Test against Australia in 2004 © Getty Images

Sourav Ganguly must love irony. Of all the grounds in the world to make a one-day comeback, of all the venues to seek redemption, he returns to Nagpur. His previous trip here, when India were humiliated in a series-deciding clash against Australia, is widely considered the starting point of his downfall. Today, with close to 500 spectators cheering him on at the nets, he was like Napoleon preparing for revenge at Waterloo.

Ganguly hasn't played a one-day international for India since September 2005. Ironically - yes, that word again - he's managed seven Tests in that period, ironical because Ganguly in one-dayers is colossal compared to Ganguly in Tests. Few have blended bravado and skill so deftly in the first 15 overs and almost nobody has trotted down the track to 150kph thunderbolts and slotted them over long-off.

His half-hour workout today, divided between the fast bowlers and the spinners, was the most exciting part of a rather mundane nets session. Apparently simulating the first 15 overs of an ODI, he swung his bat merrily. He spanked Zaheer Khan, who was the sharpest bowler on the day, RP Singh and Sreesanth - his short arm jab off RP Singh that soared into the stands was most eye-catching. The spinners were simply mangled. Harbhajan Singh was clattered for two huge sixes, Ramesh Powar received some back-foot peppering and the lesser known net bowlers didn't stand a chance.

Batting in the nets next to him was Robin Uthappa, who has butchered bowlers around the domestic circuit and is a likely opening partner for the first match. Sachin Tendulkar, recently promoted to the vice-captaincy and looking all pumped up with the responsibility, is likely to be moved down the batting order. He and Rahul Dravid, quite detached from the action today and looking tired while running between the wickets, will be expected to shore up the middle order. Yuvraj Singh, who isn't in the squad for the first two games, batted and bowled for brief periods but didn't look in any sort of discomfort.

Just one glance at India's cricketers practicing at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, and you knew that this was a team back to square one, as they were before that sorry 4-0 defeat in South Africa. Three hours of run-of-the-mill loosening up, involving players trying to desperately overcome their lethargy, was as sober as you can get. Forget adventure sports, military-training sessions and fancy rolling camps - this was a good old-fashioned warm-up.

In the absence of Anil Kumble Ramesh Powar may get a place in the side if India choose to filed two spinners © AFP

Nobody typified the rustiness more than Ramesh Powar, huffing his way through the fielding drills. Anil Kumble's absence provides India a chance to try out two spinners on a pitch that will assist turn as the game progresses and India's advantage is that the two offspinners have contrasting styles. "Harbhajan has a flatter trajectory. He looks for bounce from the wicket -- not that he doesn't get any turn. He gets big turn too and he has been our best ODI bowler in the last year," Dravid said yesterday. "Powar, meanwhile, looks to beat batsmen with guile. Flight is his preferred mode of attack. I think he will be around for a long while and will be able to step into Anil Kumble's shoes whenever the situation arises. Despite the fact that both of them are offspinners, they tend to bowl well in tandem. They complement each other well and if the opportunity does arise, we will bowl them together."

Kumble's shoes aren't easy to fill but Dravid's tone pretty much conveys that the series won't be about set patterns. Trying out a few new players - Joginder Sharma warmed up nicely with both bat and ball today, Dinesh Karthik smashed a few around before undertaking a fielding workout - may just be the idea. It's not as bad an idea as it sounds because India's one-day graph over the last one year had soared, dipped and finally reached starting point. Now that's another big irony of our times.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo