Mohali gears up for first Test

Anand Vasu

December 2, 2001

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It's finally time for the best venue in India to host international Test cricket. The rotation policy adopted by the Indian Board brings the touring England team to the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium at Mohali for the first Test match. With temperatures dipping to the lowest the England team have experienced on this tour, they should be extremely happy on the eve of the Test. Nasser Hussain has enjoyed all the attention his team has received so far but acknowledges that the action will not be easy out in the middle.

For his part, the Indian skipper too looks fairly relaxed. The fact that the team has been on the road in South Africa and returns after a bit of a thrashing does not weigh too heavily on the Bengal lefthander. Everyone is resigned to the fact that India are two sides - one that take things quite lightly and yet comes out right on top at home, and yet another that can't seem to put a foot right abroad.

That, perhaps, has more to do with the conditions than anything else. And in that regard, England certainly get their Test series off to a comfortable start. The wicket at Mohali was once easily the quickest in the country, before curator Daljit Singh re-laid the topsoil in 1996. The hard clay however still retains much of the pace and bounce of old. Overcast conditions will assure that the ball moves around a bit early on. However, the lack of much live grass on the wicket suggests that it will ease up into a good batting strip on the second and third days, before taking a bit of spin.

The pitch in turn dictates the kind of teams that will be chosen. In keeping with recent times, there is a big question mark at the top of the Indian batting order. While Shiv Sunder Das has cemented one opening slot, the other remains wide open. The Indian team could stick with regular opener Connor Williams, who impressed in his last essay in South Africa. There is word however that in the interest of accommodating another bowler Sanjay Bangar might open. Bangar opens for Railways and averages more than 35 with the bat, having scored five hundreds and fifteen half-centuries at the first-class level.

The Indian middle-order of course is packed with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly all queuing up to have a bat in familiar home conditions. Deep Dasgupta dons the gloves and there's a bit of a toss up in the bowling department. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble are sure to play. Depending on composition, the Indians could go in with either two or all three medium-pacers from Sanjay Bangar, Tinu Yohannan and Iqbal Siddiqui.

The English have their team almost lined up, although the captain Hussain did not say so in as many words. Mark Butcher and Marcus Trescothick will open the innings, with Michael Vaughan being out of form. Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash form the nucleus of the batting with all-rounders, Craig White and Andrew Flintoff, to follow. James Foster looks likely to make his Test debut behind the stumps. The bowling department has Matthew Hoggard pencilled in, with James Ormond likely to share the new ball honours with him. Richard Dawson looks set to roll his arm over bowling offspin. Martyn Ball has an outside chance of making the eleven but that seems unlikely at best.

Hussain, speaking to scribes, described India as the "best side playing at home" and reminded colleagues of the treatment Australia received earlier this year. While one rated Australia's chances highly, it would be unfair to afford this England side the same respect. Predicting a whitewash at the beginning of the series is never too clever, but it has to be said that England's best chance of avoiding the same begins and ends at Mohali.

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