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India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Chennai

A cyclonic twist of events

The Preview by Rahul Bhattacharya in Chennai

December 1, 2005

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Sourav Ganguly or Yuvraj Singh? Greg Chappell may not have a cyclone of a time deciding © Getty Images
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As Cyclone Baaz lies pretty much stationary somewhere over the Bay of Bengal, so too do predictions on whether the India's first Test series against Sri Lanka on home soil in eight years will begin as per schedule. As and when Baaz makes its move Chennai may be hit by heavy showers, in which case the game will be disrupted if not off, or be shaken by winds of 80-odd kmph, in which case, to land it at the appropriate spot, bowlers will need to release the ball from a barge positioned strategically in the Indian ocean.

It is time that the Tours, Programmes and Fixtures Committee of the Indian board affixes a weather chart to their rotation chart. It might learn that the Northeast monsoon, or the Retreating Southwest Monsoon, between October and December, is the principal wet season for Tamil Nadu, accounting, we are informed by the Regional Meteorological Centre in Chennai, for 60 per cent of the annual rainfall in the coastal districts. This year, of course, has been an exaggeration, with the Southwest monsoon falling short by 27 per cent while the Northwest has registered a destructive excess of 160 per cent.

Even so, you've got to hand it to the administrators for the tenacity with which they adhere to their follies. Not a ball has been bowled in the last one-day match slotted here, versus South Africa ten days ago, and the previous one against New Zealand was abandoned after 26.5 overs. The last Test match here, against Australia, ended without what had promised to be a tantalising final day. The one before that, against West Indies, got a result but was disrupted by bad light and drizzles.

On that last occasion, the committee had, in what can only be termed a last-minute masterstroke, switched dates with Mumbai, with the result that Chennai was pushed deeper into its monsoon and Mumbai closer to the end of its. Thus, having barely had any time to work post the rains, groundsmen at the Wankhede on match-eve were spotted painting large swathes of the eroded outfield with what appeared to be a respectable shade of green as it was being applied but which somehow managed to dry to a lurid aquamarine, the kind associated with iffy mocktails. All in all, more power to Suresh Babu of Gummidipoondi.

It is hard to know how dampness might affect it, but otherwise the pitch is criss-crossed in breadth and length with little cracks, giving it the appearance of one of those exercises found in children's art-and-craft books where patches are to be coloured corresponding to the numbers printed in them. Spin it will. Let it be known that in the last two opening days here, Anil Kumble has winkled out as many as twelve Test victims, seven of them Australians. Muttiah Muralitharan, meanwhile, had snapped up eight first-day Indians in the last Test between the teams, on a batting beauty at the SSC in Colombo. Both sides are expected to include two specialist spinners, though neither has announced even a XII.

It was a morning so grey in Chennai that the sky felt an extension of the concrete pillars and roof at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Both teams had a long and comprehensive practice session. Media interest was at its highest when Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh occupied the twin nets in the Indian corner.

Who between these to pick into the XI is one of the trickier selections for India in recent times. Yuvraj has been batting with increasing impressiveness. After five years on the international circuit, you sense that the time has arrived for him to be given a proper go at Test cricket. Whether or not he will be able to hack is something to watch, but if Indian does not ring in the changes one at a time, there lies the danger of having to perform a complete middle-order transplant in a couple of years. Certainly on current form Yuvraj ought to be played and be given the full series to show what he is able to offer.

At the same time one can't help feeling that it would not be entirely fair to leave Ganguly out. He has been nudged out as one-day captain, then dropped as one-day player, then sacked as Test captain. His biggest backer in the board is now out of power. The three selectors who voted for his inclusion in the Test squad have been dismissed. The only thing that can talk for him now is performance.

The past month he has played match after match in domestic cricket, made two important hundreds to cancel out his pair against Zaheer Khan, and bowled away till the point that on the opening day of the last game he sent down an eye-catching 22 overs (23.2 if you include no-balls). Now reunited with team, he has, according to Greg Chappell said, "Grooved in nicely over the last two days". Does he not deserve a chance to show whether or not he's worked his out? To show whether or not he is committed to giving back to the team what the team gave him over the past five years?

It's a mighty difficult decision and though the feeling in media circles is that Ganguly is certain to be selected, it is a call that will not be taken lightly.

Inevitably, there will be an outpouring of I-told-you-sos as events take whatever course they will over the next few days. Don't listen to any of it. Nobody really knows. It's the single biggest reason why we keep watching.

India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Sourav Ganguly, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Anil Kumble, 11 Harbhajan Singh.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Marvan Atapattu, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakarra, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Malinga Bandara, 11 Lasith Malinga.

Rahul Bhattachrya is contributing editor of Wisden Asia Cricket and author of Pundits from Pakistan

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Rahul Bhattacharya Author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04
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