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November 21, 2005
Instead of perfect beach weather, it's been a damp squib so far for the two teams that arrived in Chennai on Sunday. Undone by the slow and low pitch at Bangalore, Graeme Smith and South Africa arrived here intent on absorbing that lesson and teaching India a few of their own. As for the Indians, victorious in seven of their last nine matches, Chepauk afforded the opportunity to further probe South African frailty against spin, and take a potentially decisive lead into the tinder-box atmosphere of the Eden Gardens.
Another Chennai match, another deluge
After the TVS Cup match against New Zealand (2003) and the final day of an eventful India-Australia Test match (October 2004) were ruined by rain, it's now the turn of the South Africans to be subjected to the vagaries of the North-East monsoon. The rain gods have been in angry mood over the past month, and a torrential downpour in the early hours denied the South Africans an opportunity to practise in the morning. In such a scenario, predicting pitch behaviour is fraught with risk. In the event of clear skies tomorrow, bowling first would be the sensible option. Even without accounting for the dew factor, both sets of pace bowlers would love to take advantage of any moisture-induced life on a fresh pitch.
Time to set the record straight?
On the day when he goes past Wasim Akram to become one-day cricket's most capped player, Sachin Tendulkar will no doubt be keyed up for a memorable contribution. Incentive may also come from the fact that South Africa are the only team against which he averages less than 35. The man who manages 49 an innings against Australia - not to mention seven centuries - has just three hundreds in 43 matches against South Africa. What price a reversal of fortune on a ground where he has frequently been at his resplendent best?
Hit them hard...and early
After the debacle in Bangalore, South Africa may well toy with the idea of sending Justin Kemp in early so that he gets more of a look-in before unleashing that frightening array of big hits. Since returning to the side against England last January, there has been no more destructive batsman in world cricket, and there were enough hints in the opening two games as to the damage that those immense shoulders can do. For those enamoured of trivia, Kemp is the cousin of Dave Callaghan, a fine batsman of early-to-mid-1990s vintage, who, till Gary Kirsten (188*) broke it, held the record for the highest score by a South African in an ODI - 169.
The Prince in exile
Innuendo has it that Sourav Ganguly's return could well depend on the result of this match. If India win, the rumours suggest that his long cold winter will continue. If they lose, however, his backers - and there are several powerful ones - could well engineer a return for the final two ODIs against South Africa and the three Tests against Sri Lanka. The very fact that one-day results may influence Test selection tells you all you need to know about the palace intrigues in Indian cricket. The Greg Chappell-inspired new wave of professionalism is sadly restricted to the field, and shows no sign of making an appearance in the corridors of power.
Turning a corner
The Bangalore match, where Johan Botha and Justin Ontong certainly didn't disgrace themselves with the ball, may have given South Africa valuable pointers with regard to team selection. AB de Villiers has been in wretched form this season, and this team is clearly missing the experience and class of Herschelle Gibbs and the sub-continental nous of Boeta Dippenaar. Expect Robin Peterson, who bowls slow left-arm spin while having an eye for the big shot, to get a look in.
A stage for heroes
It's not just Tendulkar who has lit up Chepauk in recent times. This was also the venue for Saeed Anwar's glorious 194 against India in the Independence Cup eight years ago. The pitch has always been kind to fluent stroke-makers, and aficionados will also remember Mark Waugh's scintillating century in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final when Australia made light of chasing a formidable New Zealand total.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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