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April 5, 2006
As you enter the Nehru Stadium complex, a rather stiff-looking Sreesanth beams down at you from a large cut-out placed there by the Ernakulam Cricket Club. "We're very proud of you," it says, and the teeming masses gathered outside in the hope of procuring a prized ticket for tomorrow have taken for granted that God's Own Country's new flavour of the season will have a role to play in a match that England need to win to avoid losing the series inside four games.
Sweaty work Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh were allowed to miss the training session this morning to keep them fresh for the game. The non-story about Yuvraj's alleged shin injury quickly petered out once a doctor from the Medical Trust Hospital, where he went for an MRI scan, proclaimed that he didn't "even need rest". But with the mercury soaring and the humidity being of the sticky-shirt variety, there was no question of anyone going all out at the nets. At the press conference later, Geraint Jones played down the oppressive conditions, but an English attack built around pace certainly won't relish this concrete-enclosed arena. You'd have to be touched by madness, or strapped to a tank of IV, to attempt anything more than a five-over spell here.
Missing the golden arm India go into this game without the man whose innocuous slow bowling has been a lucky charm at this venue. Sachin Tendulkar grabbed a match-winning five-for against a formidable Australian side in the first game to be played here, and then replicated the feat against Pakistan a year ago. His absence means that the frontline bowlers will have to step up, though it may be argued that Pathan's stunning success with slower balls and cutters compensates for the absence of the Tendulkar all-sorts.
Slower and lower The pitch here has usually been full of runs, though it does tend to get sluggish as the day goes on. India have managed totals in excess of 300 while setting the pace, and also when chasing, but the safe option would surely be to pile up a score and then wait for the torpid pitch to do the rest. It worked against Pakistan last year, and it could be argued that England aren't even half the side that Pakistan were.
Opening woes, and the Batty problem With no Marcus Trescothick around to provide a stroke-filled start, England have struggled to put India's new-ball bowlers under any pressure. Andrew Strauss has looked shaky, and Matt Prior hasn't converted starts, leaving Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen too much to do lower down the order. The blind faith in pace hasn't helped the team cause either, with Gareth Batty not getting a look-in at either Faridabad or Goa, on pitches that made Ian Blackwell look like an international-class spinner. Given his luck, he may come in tomorrow and be confronted by Virender Sehwag in a rampant mood.
Dropping down? Sehwag's opening woes were near the top of the agenda when Dravid spoke to the media, but on the pitch where he made his last one-day hundred - he has four 50s from 30 games since then - he's unlikely to be eased into the middle order. The plan could instead be to unleash the uncapped Robin Uthappa, a young man with a reputation as a strokeplayer, and let Sehwag play himself back into form. Such decisions are of course easier when you're leading 3-0 in a series.
Home boy Kerala was once famed for its football players, and an alternate sporting culture that saw seven-a-side kickabouts on every vacant patch of land. But with cricket having assumed Hydra-like proportions in the satellite-TV age, wasteland and patch of green alike have suddenly become cricket nurseries. The now-forgotten Tinu Yohannan may have led the way, but he never played for India in front of his home crowd. Sreesanth will get that chance tomorrow, with Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar both likely to make way, and the hype will probably obscure the fact that he has struggled in the one-day game. An economy-rate of 6.15 over 11 games is far from ideal, though in his defence, most of those were played on pitches so placid that Sreesanth himself might have fancied a 50 or two.
India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mohammad Kaif, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Sreesanth
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Matt Prior, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Andrew Flintoff (capt), 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ian Blackwell, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Gareth Batty, 11 James Anderson
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo.Feeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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