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
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
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.
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