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March 30, 2006
When Indian cricketers are asked to recall their favourite venues, it's unlikely that the Nahar Singh Stadium will merit even a cursory mention. In five outings dating back to 1987-88, India have only one victory over Zimbabwe to show for their efforts. And some of the current players will remember vividly the 24-ball 56 with which Douglas Marillier pulled off the most thrilling of upset victories four years ago. England will be encouraged by past records that suggest a surface more amenable to pace - their strength - but will need to bat far better than they did in Delhi to stretch an Indian side that has won 13 of their last 17 ODI games.
Something for the bowlers: Unlike many other grounds on the subcontinent, this one has never had a reputation as an out-and-out batsmen's paradise, and the last match played here was on a pitch so green that Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken finished off the game as a contest within a dozen overs. Rahul Dravid reckoned that the surface prepared for tomorrow would turn as the day wore on but would also offer initial encouragement for the pace bowlers. In his view, a total in excess of 240 would be a competitive one - pleasant news for bowlers still having nightmares about the carnage at the Wanderers three weeks ago.
Soft top, firm centre: Most one-day teams set the tone for an innings with their big-hitters, doing as much damage as they can while the fielding restrictions are in effect. However, with Marcus Trescothick back in England preparing for the start of the county season, England find themselves in a situation where the heavy artillery is hidden away in the middle order. Dravid has repeatedly stressed how dangerous Andrew Flintoff - playing his 100th ODI - and Kevin Pietersen can be, but with Trescothick missing and the other opening options nowhere near as potent, sending either man up the order may not be such a bad idea.
Mix-and-match: Irfan Pathan missed practice with a sore throat and a mild fever, but the team management remains optimistic that he will be ready to continue his happy knack of picking up early wickets in ODIs. If they err on the side of caution in stifling heat, Rudra Pratap Singh may retain his place, with Ramesh Powar coming in to beef up the spin options. Munaf Patel is well on the road to recovery after bruising on his heel, but his relative lack of bowling in the nets suggested that the team were prepared to give him three more days to get back to peak condition before the Goa game.
To sweep, or not to sweep: Nearly 20 years ago, Graham Gooch swept England into a World Cup final at India's expense. Unfortunately, most of his countrymen don't play the shot with anything like the same expertise or aplomb. Four perished while hitting across the line in Delhi, and if the pitches exhibit the same kind of variable bounce, Harbhajan Singh certainly won't mind the odd waft in the direction of square leg. A few tips from Gooch certainly won't hurt England.
Fair-weather fans: Dravid played down the comments that Mahendra Singh Dhoni made at a press conference yesterday , but it was clear from his body language that both captain and team are smarting at some of the barbs directed their way by so-called fans. The boos for Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai came largely from the corporate-invitee-freebie types - those that Roy Keane, and many other sportsmen, dismiss with such contempt - and with the composition of the crowd changing to accommodate more of the same prawn-sandwich brigade, this won't be the last time that Dhoni and friends cop an earful. Many of these Indian fans could do a lot worse than emulate the Barmy Army, whose good cheer and support-through-thick-and-thin credo has frequently galvanised England in times of strife.
When pace is not ace: England's seamers did a commendable job in Delhi, but the sameness of the attack could well cost them on a pitch that plays lower and slower. When they bowl first, the early-morning starts might aid movement in the air and off the seam, but once the sun comes out and the pitch browns like a brick in a kiln, taking the pace off the ball is usually the way to go in India. England's spin resources, with the exception of Ian Blackwell, are non-existent, and Paul Collingwood's gentle medium pace could come in very handy.
India (probable): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 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 S Sreesanth.
England (probable): 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Matt Prior, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Andrew Flintoff (capt), 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ian Blackwell, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Kabir Ali, 11 James Anderson.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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