February 7, 2001

Wright stresses 'back to the basics' refrain at Chennai camp

The Indian team probables for the Test series against Australia limbered up at the opening session of their five-day conditioning camp in Chennai, minus skipper Sourav Ganguly and eight others. The nine arrived from Bangalore this morning after playing a benefit match and will join the camp from Thursday. Indian coach John Wright and BCCI consultant Geoff Marsh oversaw the nets and fielding practice following which the team adjourned in the afternoon to the beach resort at Fisherman's Cove for lunch and a team meeting.

Wright had agreed to speak to reporters only on Thursday after Ganguly's arrival but later relented briefly. Asked about the focus of the camp, Wright said, "We're just doing a lot of the basics, particularly fielding. It's a chance for all of us to see these 25 players who have a good opportunity to play in the series against Australia. We'll see how they approach their training."

Wright praised the facilities at the IIT-Chemplast ground as 'fantastic'. "The greenery is beautiful and it's a little bit cooler than other places in Chennai." He also spoke on the purpose of practice, as he saw it. "I'm just bringing my coaching exposure and maybe a different perspective. The main thing about practice is to practice the way you play. You need to put yourself under pressure whilst training. If you go through the motions, there's no point being here."

Ace leg-spinner Anil Kumble, who showed up with his right arm in a sling, confirmed that he would attend the entire duration of the camp. Kumble said "The most important reason I'm here is for the physiotherapy on my shoulder with Andrew (Leipus, the team's physical trainer) and also in whatever way I can contribute. It's good that John Wright has asked me to help the boys."

Kumble expressed frustration at being forced onto the sidelines. "It's really disappointing to miss a big series. Having said that, the good thing is that in four months time, I'll be back and the shoulder will be pain-free", he said.

But Kumble was optimistic about India's young pretenders in the spin department. I've always believed that once you've got the runs on the board, without me it shouldn't be a problem. We've got some good young spinners coming through, this is a good opportunity for them, Harbhajan, Sharandeep, Kartik, Joshi and I'm happy they've considered Raju, his experience will be very helpful." Asked inevitably about fellow legspinner Balaji Rao, whose name seems to be bobbing up everywhere, Kumble said he hadn't seen him bowl lately. "The last I saw him was while playing for Karnataka against Tamil Nadu in 1995-96 but I've been hearing a lot of good things about him."

Wright watched over his wards with eagle eyes, quick to pull up players who tarried awhile in changing their gear. All the players, including the bowlers, tested out their batting at the three practice wickets. Harbhajan Singh in particular seemed to take his batting very seriously. Sachin Tendulkar was the cynosure of most eyes, immersing himself totally in his chosen activity, either with bat or ball. Simple gestures told the tale, really. Like when bowling to Zaheer Khan with an imaginary slip and silly point, Tendulkar induced an edge towards silly point and let out a whoop of exultation.

But for the most part, the emphasis was on fielding routines, as Wright had noted. Marsh took the lead in organising catching practice in batches and the program was rounded off with a throwing drill with each player running from one base to another, baseball style. Since there was no fitness regimen on the first day, Leipus spent over an hour giving a reclining Kumble's shoulder muscles a workout. It was not a pleasant sight to see Kumble wince in pain and he later indicated that he would not hurry his return into international cricket. "It's too early for me to say anything, it's just two weeks since the surgery. It'll take a while. I'm not really desperate to come back fast."