November 7, 2000

Indore all set for Zimbabwean assault

The beginning of a series always leaves tremendous room for optimism. The eve of the Zimbabwe-National Cricket Academy clash at the Nehru Stadium in Indore is a case in point. The Academy team is one full of youth is one striving hard to make a markand all that jazz. The well worn cliches have been flying off scribes' keyboards faster than readers can digest. After all, this match is really about the Zimbabweans.

The visitors' tour has gotten off on the wrong foot already. They have arrived for their first game minus skipper Heath Streak. They also landed at Indore minus their kitbags and luggage. Luckily, both issues have been swiftly sorted out. The in-form Guy Whittall will lead the side and the luggage did arrive, albeit a trifle late.

Having been knocked out of the KSCA Diamond Jubilee Tournament in their very first match, the NCA side was raring to go in the next chance they got. That was the Buchi Babu Memorial Tournament in Chennai. In fine style, they overwhelmed team after team and lifted the cup. Tomorrow, when they walk out to face Zimbabwe, history of sorts will be made. An Indian Academy side will take on an international team.

And this side will be led by someone who already has two World Cup victories under his belt - Reetinder Singh Sodhi. In his ranks, are the polished Mohammed Kaif, the spunky Sridharan Sriram and the silken touch of Delhi's Gautam Gambir. If these cricketers can't do the job, they have the ever dependable Ahmedabad southpaw - Neeraj Patel to fall back on. In the bowling department they are equally well endowed. Rakesh Patel and Mrityunjay Tripathi will, in all likelihood share the new ball. When they are done testing the Zimbabwean batsmen, the left arm spin of Sriram and indeed Rakesh Dhruv will kick in. Sodhi will run in and pound the batsmen, and to top it all, they could have the services of recently included Tamil Nadu left arm spinner Vidyuth Sivaramakrishnan or Bengal offspinner Saurashish Lahiri. Punjab offspinner Sarandeep Singh has been making waves in domestic cricket and he too is likely to play a part.

The lung opener is equally important for the Zimbabweans. It gives them an opportunity to try out the youngsters they have brought on tour - Travis Friend being a revelation and the freshly out of college Brian Murphy not far behind. Guy Whittall will have a go at the top job in Zimbabwean cricket and the experience should hold him in good stead.

At 9.30am tomorrow however, it will not be about a new dawn in Indian cricket. It will not be about Zimbabwe trying to establish themselves as serious contenders in world cricket. It will be about leather thudding on willow. After all, this is the city that produced the likes of Colonel CK Nayudu and Mushtaq Ali.

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