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December 9, 2001
Nasser Hussain is a very intense man. One instant spent looking into his eyes is enough to tell you that. While intensity is a good thing most of the time, it can actually backfire when things aren't going too well for you. With England going 1-0 down in the three Test series against India at Mohali, the venue most likely to be friendly to them, things are going wrong for the visitors. Hussain however, has maintained his composure in the most remarkable manner. Two days before the start of the second Test at Ahmedabad, the England team had a long workout in the nets at the Sardar Patel Stadium.
Just travelling from the cool climes of Mohali to the hot, dustbowl of Ahmedabad would have been enough to make English heart's sink. The dry, crumbling wicket here is sure to aid spin and this was on the top of the minds of journalists gathered at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera. The press conference with Hussain began with the big question about the fitness of left-arm spinner Ashley Giles. "I expect him to be fit for the game," began the England skipper. "He has done everything today, and just before I came to meet you guys I asked him how he felt and he said, 'I am very good.' Obviously we have to wait till tomorrow morning and see how he wakes up. Even if he does feel a hundred percent, he won't automatically come in to the side, but then when you get to a ground like this where you expect the ball to turn, we have to give him every chance to play the game."
It must be remembered that Giles had remarkable success in earlier series in the subcontinent, scalping 17 wickets in three Tests against Pakistan. The spinner, considered being a certainty to play if fit, had to miss the first Test because of a bruised heel. Hussain however, was keen not to commit to playing Giles and made it clear that getting the composition of the bowling attack right was England's first priority. "You have to get the balance of the bowling right when you get to a wicket like this," Hussain explained. "In this particular instance, we are already up four or five degrees from Mohali, and you need five bowlers, you can't get away with four. I'd expect us to play at least two spinners, though a lot depends on the availability of Ashley as well as the possibility of reverse swing."
Despite England's recent successes in tours to Sri Lanka and Pakistan the team has done little so far to suggest that they can duplicate their feat. When asked about the kind of cricket he expected in the coming Test Hussain began, "I think we will see some turgid cricket here. I expect the wicket to turn more, turn slower and lower, but turn big." He went on to add, "The mindset is different when you need to graft on these tracks. In England, South Africa and Australia, the pace of the game is a lot quicker. Here, it's a bit slow, and it demands discipline and discretion in shot selection. At the same time, batting here is not all about taking a bunker to the middle. It's not all about hanging in there and surviving. It's up to each individual to work out his game plan. Graham Thorpe is one of our best players of spin, but rarely does he run down the track and smash the bowler over his head."
Hussain stressed more than once on the need for the team to learn, and learn quickly, how to approach batting against spin in conditions that exist in the subcontinent. This prompted journos to ask the English skipper whether an extra tour game between Tests would have helped. The reply was quick in coming. "Kumble and Harbhajan are so different from anything else that our batsmen have seen, I don't think another tour game would have had any bearing. Maybe, a state side with both Kumble and Harbhajan playing in it, yeah, that might have helped!" said Hussain with a chuckle. "People have asked me if India's home record intimidates other teams. I think sometimes, we overtheorise the game. I feel India have the right batsmen and the right bowlers for the conditions, hence they are so good at home," said Hussain calmly.
That England are struggling here hardly comes as a surprise. At the same time, it would be foolish to suggest that India are any different when they tour abroad. Most recently India were routed in South Africa amidst a great deal of upheaval and controversy. "But when they tour South Africa or Australia, just like we are not used to the conditions here, they are not used to the conditions there. The greatest players, the Sachin Tendulkars and the Steve Waughs, are those that can adapt to conditions. Sachin is such a great player because he plays well in all conditions."
Hussain clearly is experienced and mature enough to take both the highs of victory and the lows of losing in his stride. He reassured that it was not only him but also all the players were keeping their chins up. "The boys have kept their spirits up and are enjoying touring. However, I have been disappointed with our fielding, we have dropped too many chances and missed too many opportunities since the first Ashes Test. Duncan (Fletcher) had a stern word with them this morning, and we will all try hard to put that right."
That is only one thing the England team need to put right, but it sure would be a good place to start.
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