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Preview by Anand Vasu in Pune
November 2, 2005
"We are a happy team and we're winning," said Greg Chappell with a straight face that would have made the best poker player proud, when asked what the two main differences were between this Indian team and the one that was struggling to perform not long ago. If there is one thing you cannot overstate the importance of, it is the mental state - individual and collective - of a team. At the moment, the Indian team appears relaxed yet focussed, confident yet mindful of the fact that the job is only half done. To their credit, the Sri Lankans have carried themselves well despite coming under heavy-duty fire in the first three matches. Even when Mahendra Singh Dhoni was playing the innings of his lifetime, shoulders did not droop, and that is a sign of the belief they have in themselves. And they will need all of it when they take the field on Thursday.
It's a do-or-die game for Sri Lanka, and they certainly need no reminding of this fact. But in one-day cricket being 3-0 down is not quite the same as trailing by the same margin in Tests, where it would be virtually impossible to bounce back. As Rahul Dravid unfailingly reminds the press in pre-match briefings, every match is a new one, and there's only that much you can take on to the park from previous wins. Both these teams are professionally run, and you can be sure that India won't be any more complacent than Sri Lanka will be cowed down.
"We have no intention of resting Tendulkar," Chappell said at the pre-match press conference, dispelling all doubts over whether Tendulkar would play the fourth one-dayer against Sri Lanka or not. Aside from that there was no team news from the India camp, who retained the same 13 that was in the running for the third match, leaving out Rudra Pratap Singh and Gautam Gambhir. Sri Lanka were forced to make at least one change to their team, with Mahela Jayawardene having returned home for his marriage. This means Upul Tharanga, the young left-hand batsman, or Thilan Samaraweera, will find a place in the 12 for tomorrow.
Bumpy yet fast
The conditions at the Nehru Stadium in Pune - so many grounds in India are named after the pundit you'd think he was a great sports lover - could not be any more different than they were at the third match in Jaipur. The ground does not belong to the Maharashtra Cricket Association, is a multi-purpose stadium and rather worse for wear. The outfield is ragged, uneven and bumpy, and a few players could be caught off guard when they set down the long barrier to stop a ball. The pitch has a bit more grass than normal, is light coloured, and should be full of runs.
The circus rolls on
One of the difficult aspects of playing a seven-match one-day series in a short span of time in a big country like India is the amount of travelling involved. While the players do have things arranged rather well, it still takes a toll on the body and mind - the routine of pitching up at a venue, practicing, playing a game and hitting the road again. In tough conditions of heat and humidity, the fitness levels of players are tested to the extreme, and even a young, strong cricketer like Dhoni was cramping up towards the second half of his unbeaten 183.
Chappell acknowledged that this was a factor which the teams had to deal with. "It is not easy to recharge batteries," he said. "The travel day is not exactly a rest day. We spend a lot of time sitting on planes and in airport lounges and travelling on the bus. That is not ideal recovery. We must manage our resources well, not overusing the players. We are conscious of the nervous systems of the players. It's not just about resting them from games, but also about what their roles are in different games."
And, for India, with this series ending on the 12th and the next, a five-ODI series against South Africa, beginning on November 16, it's almost like playing 12 on the trot.
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