December 1, 2000

Past record and present form favours India

When it rains, it pours. One day internationals generally are much of the same. Runs, runs and more runs is the eternal mantra in the shorter version of the game and the forthcoming five match series between India and Zimbabwe promises not to be very different. If anything, the pitch at Cuttack's Barabati stadium, the scene of the first ODI between India and Zimbabwe is but a indication towards this.

It was a memorable occasion for one and all when India played the same visitors the last time around at this venue. Md Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja had torn the Zimbabwean attack to shreds while involving themselves in a record partnership which was broken by another Indian pair, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly on that wonderful morning at Taunton last year.

Even the record at the Barabati stadium stands in favour of the hosts. Though the Indians have won six out of eight games they played at this ground, they will still have to pull up their socks, especially while fielding and bowling. The two Test series that concluded recently saw the Zimbabweans, especially Andy Flower, in splendid form. The Indian coach, John Wright felt that after what happened in the Test series and in particular the second Test, the time had come to take a long, hard look at the bowling and fielding. Speaking at Cuttack today, he said "We should now get our bowling and fielding on par with the batting."

Speaking of which, the Indians still depend on the trusted batting trinity in Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid. With the team management having left out Sridharan Sriram and Nikhil Chopra, the trio will be helped by Yuvraj Singh, Hemang Badani or SS Das, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Vijay Dahiya and Sunil Joshi. The seam bowling will be in the hands of Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Venkatesh Prasad. This means that India will take the field on Saturday with all three seamers but with only one specialist spinner. On the subject, Ganguly contented that in case it was needed, Tendulkar and Yuvraj could lend a helping hand to the attack.

The pitch at the Barabati stadium, which came for a lot of praise from the two member BCCI pitches committee comprising G Kasturirangan and Deeraj Parsana, seems to indicate that a lot of runs are in store on Saturday. Ganguly, while speaking to the media soon after nets, was of the same opinion. However his counterpart, Heath Streak felt that the pitch looked good but for a few cracks in it. Reminiscing about the last match that he played on this ground, he said that the pitch did not look any different from the last one.

The Zimbabweans may be down but are certainly not out. Considering the fact that they are quite a handy side in the one day games, the Zimbabweans are fairly confident. The energiser is the in form Andy Flower and former captain Alister Campbell. Another bit of good news for the Zimbabweans is that Travis Friend, who has been nursing a ankle injury, should be in the team after a customary fitness test on Friday evening.

Streak, while informing the media that the Zimbabwe twelve would be decided only late on Friday evening, said that Grant Flower will bat in the middle order, while Douglas Marillier and Alister Campbell will open the innings. He said that after the batting performance in the second Test, the team was in an upbeat mood and felt that they should get their act together with respect to the bowling department.

With the battle lines drawn and the teams ready for combat, everything points out to a keen tussle at Cuttack on Saturday with India trying to maintain its supremacy at the ground and against the visitors while the Zimbabweans will have to do much more than erase their abysmal record to take a psychological lead in the series with a win here.