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December 18, 2001
India are all set to clash with England in the third and final Test at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Wednesday. After winning the first Test at Mohali and holding on to a draw at Motera, India lead the series 1-0. England, then, will be the underdogs going into a final Test match against a formidable Indian team.
This will be the 14th Test match to be played at this beautiful venue, with India having won four of those games. Against England, India hold a 1-0 record at this venue, having beaten Tony Greig's team by 140 runs in February 1977. The only other match between the sides here was when Keith Fletcher's team drew a Test in December 1981. Interestingly, though, India has lost four Test matches in Bangalore; the last two Tests against Australia (1997/98) and South Africa (1999/00) were comprehensively won by the visitors.
Both teams are consummately aware of the stakes involved in this final game. India will try to close the series 2-0, while England can be expected to give their all to square the series. Both sides have been going through extensive net sessions for the last two days and must have chalked out their strategies for the final encounter.
The M Chinnaswamy outfield looks fresh, even and green, a fielder's paradise; the mystery lies in the pitch. The square was relaid approximately six months ago, and the track on which the Test is to be played is an unknown quantity. No first-class games have been played on it, and the puzzle will only add to the excitement level.
According to curator Kasturirangan, the track should be good for batting in the earlier phase of the match, helping the spinners in the final two days. Any grass that may have been present has been shaved off on the eve of the Test. By appearances, the pitch promises to be a beauty to bat on, with the ball coming on to the bat nicely.
Captains Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain refused to let out any details regarding the team composition; in all probablity, though, both sides will retain the eleven that played at Motera in the second Test match. There is a faint possibility of Sarandeep Singh playing, but with the success enjoyed by the four Indian bowlers, there seems to be no compelling reason why the team should be changed.
Hussain in particular sounded confident ahead of the Test match and reckons that they will have to post a huge first-innings total. The ideal game plan for both the teams, so it seems, will be to bat first if they were to win the toss. Batting last on this new track might be a difficult proposition.
Bangalore is the home of not a few stalwarts in the current Indian side - Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Rahul Dravid. One of the main attractions of this Test has definitely got to be Anil Kumble taking his 300th Test wicket. Currently on 299, Kumble will become the second Indian bowler to pick 300 wickets after the legendary Kapil Dev.
This Test will also be vital for young Indian wicket-keeper Deep Dasgupta, who must be hoping to put on much better performance behind the stumps after his poor showing at Motera. India's major worry, though, will be the form of their skipper Ganguly, who is yet to post a big score in this series. India hold the advantage going into the Test purely on the basis of their superior batting line-up, including the likes of Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman, and the imposing spin duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
England will look to rely on common sense cricket, sticking resolutely to a game plan. They will be looking to bank on good individual performances if they wish to turn the tables on India. Andrew Flintoff has easily been the fastest bowler in this series so far, and Ashley Giles proved himself to be a very effective wicket-taking bowler at Ahmedabad. The absence of Graham Thorpe does weaken the batting line-up, but spirited displays from Craig White and Mark Butcher must be heartening for the visitors. All their top-order batsman have been making runs with the exception of Mark Ramprakash; although looking good, he has not gone on to make a big score.
A huge crowd is expected to attend the Test tomorrow. Public interest has been overwhelming, with people hanging around the stadium days in advance just to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. The very sight of Flintoff charging in to bowl to Ganguly should get the spectators on the edge of their seats. The weather forecast, though, might not; with many low-pressure areas in the Bay of Bengal, there is a fair amount of cloud cover over the city. If the rain holds off, the swing bowlers might just have something to celebrate.
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