ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v West Indies, Group B, World Cup, Chennai

The Chepauk pitch needs to hold up

The track at the MA Chidambaram Stadium has been subject to Chennai's torrid March heat, but it needs to produce a fair contest on Sunday if India are to find their mojo and West Indies bounce back

Sharda Ugra in Chennai

March 18, 2011

Comments: 130 | Text size: A | A

Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan take a breather during practice, Shere Bangla Stadium, Mirpur, February 18, 2011
Suresh Raina may be brought in as a replacement for Yusuf Pathan © AFP

There's a shamiana spread out at the centre of the MA Chidambaram Stadium; if they had to stick a few floral decorations around it and bung in a chandelier or two, it could actually serve as the entrance to a wedding. In reality, the canopy is spread out over the pitch on which India and West Indies will play their World Cup game on Sunday. Celebrations could well be muted. The canopy is meant to protect the Chidambaram stadium pitch from a hard, merciless March sun, give it air to breathe and keep itself together, because the track is beginning to resemble an aged diva throwing a fit.

The first-innings totals in the last six matches played on the ground - including two World Cup warm-up games - have been 103, 152, 360, 69, 171 and 243. The canopy arrived just after the 171 game, England v South Africa, when the top soil of the wicket began coming loose and Andrew Strauss' showstoppers defended the modest total with their lives. On Thursday night, England had to defend again to stay in the World Cup and they held on to 243 by the thinnest of their breaths against West Indies.

As much as the wicket holds up, the constant getting more and more prominent is the advantage of winning the toss. Bar flies at the Madras Cricket Club have now calculated that winning the toss - and batting first - is like adding 75 to the total, even before a ball has been bowled. The problem may well be that ODIs haven't been played in Chennai during the month of March for the last 15 years. The last one was the 1996 World Cup quarter-final, between two teams who will be glued to Sunday's game, Australia and New Zealand.

Since November, Chepauk has actually been quarantined. Tamil Nadu only played their first two Ranji Trophy home games there before shifting to other grounds in Chennai, meaning even domestic cricket was not played on the ground. So, the officials, curators and the Chennai public will want the track to be on its best behaviour.

On Sunday, for India to find their mojo and West Indies to give themselves a chance to hang on in the Cup, prayers around the toss must be abandoned. For all its trials, the Chepauk track must be made immaterial.

Between the two teams, India have the best of all options, other than fielding of course. The team turned up at Chepauk on Friday for the first time in the lead-up to the match. There was an energetic game of football and the first two batsmen in the nets were Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, and the first bowler wheeling his arm over was local offspinner R Ashwin.

While Ashwin's inclusion in the XI is as good as a foregone conclusion and far removed from Piyush Chawla's absence from the nets on Friday, there is every chance that Suresh Raina may make his way into the squad as well. The reasons are several: the confidence of his batting in Indian conditions, his ability to quickly churn out a few part-time overs and the speed and energy of his legs. Yusuf Pathan may well look like the easiest candidate to be replaced, but Raina's inclusion in place of Pathan will not be a case of like replacing like. The left-hander may be a purely attacking middle-order batsman, but a power hitter he is not.

The choice of India's XI will be a dilemma because, on Sunday, they would like to field the squad that can move ahead in the tournament. Any switches, other than due to injury, between their last group game and their first quarter-final is flirting with hazard. The Indians may live in a silent bubble, but the rumblings about their Nagpur performance are being felt. Bowlers, who always consider themselves the footsoldiers, grumble that once again they are copping the flak for India's flashy cavalry of batsmen. It may not make sense for Pathan and Ashish Nehra to be made the easy scapegoats for the middle-order batting failure in Nagpur, but the maths of Indian cricket sometimes works in mysterious ways.

A media storm rose on Thursday evening about a meeting between captain MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, the BCCI secretary N Srinivasan, chairman of selectors Krish Srikkanth, coach Gary Kirsten and bowling coach Eric Simons. It was a pre-planned meeting centred around giving Simons at the very least an interim role as India coach, following Kirsten's departure after the Cup, until a permanent solution to the vacancy is found. Questions about the Nagpur defeat, it is learnt, only logically followed, but as always in Indian cricket, as Sourav Ganguly so aptly used to describe it, "two plus two became twenty two."

In the run-up to the World Cup, the BCCI has done its best to detach the team from its adoring media, so a marriage of something between rumour, gossip and fact was only to be expected. The worthies in charge of the team's time management have done splendid impersonations of dodgems cars trying to avoid India's persistent press pack, aka all of us.

On Tuesday, a bus load of journalists along with security personnel, net bowlers, ground staff, tea and biscuit suppliers turned up at the IIT Ground for what was supposed to be India's first practice after Nagpur. The area had been sanitised by security and sniffed out by dogs. What none of them knew was that everyone in the Indian squad had opted out of optional practice and the management too had opted out of informing their local hosts.

There were a couple of days of changes in schedule, one last optional session and on Thursday, relations between team management and media seemed to approaching harmony. On Friday, the only vacillation concerned a change of schedule by an hour, a 45-minute late arrival and a media conference that was announced and then eventually never was. Maybe on Sunday, India will put it all together and finally arrive at this World Cup - on the field and just in time.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 130 
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Posted by Nadeem on (March 20, 2011, 6:39 GMT)

Just one loss and every body is asking for change, thats the problem with fans attitude, just give the same XI to play and keep on going. It will create a good team , otherwise it can destroy team spirit. Pathan played unbelievable in SA so why to take him out , as Kohli too, Raina did nothing in last six months , why to waste time on experiments.

Posted by Lalith on (March 20, 2011, 6:26 GMT)

It does not matter who is in the team. IND need to beat WI to avoid SL in QF. SL got much better bowling attack than India that can upset Indian top order. SL is not worried about Indian rubbish bowling attack. It is easy to beat Aussies in QF in front of home crowd as you know Aussies form these days.

Posted by Ram on (March 20, 2011, 6:17 GMT)

Well Kohli will take some time to hit the ball. Not suitable when India is 250 for 1 in the 40 th over. Raina in this context will be more useful than kohli......

Posted by Magesh on (March 20, 2011, 2:02 GMT)

I have written on many forums about the ideal 11. India cannot afford to have sachin, gambhir, and kohli in the playing X1. only 2 out of those 3 should play. Similarly, only either pathan or raina should play. This would allow india play 5 specialist bowlers. india's weakness is in bowling and not batting. Therefore, we should play 5 bowlers instead of 4, and play 6 batsmen instead of 7 batsmen. The team should be: sehwag, sachin, gambhir/kohli, yuvraj, dhoni, raina/pathan, zaheer, patel, harbhajan, ashwin, chawla/nehra. This is the balanced team with which india can hope to beat big teams.

Posted by Magesh on (March 20, 2011, 1:56 GMT)

india should lose to WI. By losing they would play sri lanka instead of australia. india has some chance to beat sri lanka but no chance to beat australia. Also, by losing they will make pakistan play england. England has a better chance to beat pakistan, than west indies. It is all about strategy.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 20, 2011, 1:48 GMT)

yusuf should be in raina should replace the slow striker gambhir

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 19, 2011, 19:32 GMT)

India will tomorrow and I hope they than beat Australia I want these errogant ausies out now, enough is enough!

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 19, 2011, 19:18 GMT)

Kohli should come in right after Gambhir instead of way down the order. Yuvraj to follow and Pathan/Raina, after and then comes Dhoni. Raina can move ahead of Yuvraj also. But it is better India dont shuffle their order so much. Who ever is sent ahead, should play sensibly rather than wham-bham cricket. This aint 20-20. It was utterly stupid to send in Yusuf instead of Kohli in SA match. They should stick to the order when the going was good. Kohli, Yuvraj mostly doesnt come right out of the blocks and fire away. Yusuf does but it was needed in that match. Also Nehra should have been given warm up at least after the 45th over instead of straight up last over. Gambhir is playing as if he wants to save his place not for the team. He seems to be a little out of touch. I wont be surprised to see Raina instead of Gambhir also.

Posted by Dharmesh on (March 19, 2011, 18:38 GMT)

All u fools who think replace Kholi for Raina r idiots,weren't u guys were the one who said Raina for Kohl when he was not performing,i don't think Kohli has done anything wrong to be replaced,all of middle order was to be blamed for collapsed in match against Eng and SA,so what u want to replace whole middle order,i don't think so,also Kohli has proved himself worthy of him being in a team,whenever our top order has failed he has sterred the inning quite nicely.So in end my conclusion is just replace piyush or Ashish for S.Ashwin and leave team as is.Good luck India to get to the finish line i will be cheering for you.

Posted by Manish on (March 19, 2011, 16:59 GMT)

India should rest key players tomorrow. India eleven should be like SRT, Ghambhir, Virat, Yubraj, Dhoni, Raina, Yusuf, Piyus, Aswin, Shreesanth and Nehra. One hidden tips for Dhoni to loose tomorrow match in order to goto semi final because IND-WI match winner have to face Number 1 and three times defending Champions Australia in QF. First time in WorldCup Cricket that both team like defeat tomorrow.

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