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December 17, 2005
In sickness and in health Barring an infusion of Kryptonite, Rahul Dravid is unlikely to lead India tomorrow. The gastroenteritis attack that led to his hospitalisation has left him very weak, and India are unlikely to gamble - even if it's their most reliable batsman - with the series still at stake. At the press conference after nets, Greg Chappell gave every indication that Gautam Gambhir would keep his place in the XI, and he will most likely be reunited with Virender Sehwag at the top of the order. Mohammad Kaif, who had quite a bit of batting time this morning, should ease into the holding role that Dravid has taken upon himself with such aplomb for so long.
For Sri Lanka, Marvan Atapattu is on the mend after a bout of flu, but neither Chaminda Vaas nor Dilhara Fernando have shaken off the fever that saw them miss nets this morning. Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof are the pace bowling back-up, and Upul Tharanga is expected to come in for Avishka Gunawardene, who has done nothing so far to suggest that he belongs at this level.
Heat and dust The dry heat certainly won't help players trying to shake off the after-effects of a viral infection, though the batsmen among them will be cheered by the brown, grassless pitch. The curator had some grass rolled in to bind the surface, and there should be decent bounce, but it appeared a surface that was full of runs - not too dissimilar from the one where India and Pakistan rattled up well over 600 runs in an ODI last April. Chappell expected it to aid the slow bowlers as the match wore on, lending credence to the theory that the result will once again hinge on how effective Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble can be.
Mr Commitment On the eve of Kumble's 100th Test, Chappell reckoned that he was as great a competitor as his old wrecking ball, Dennis Keith Lillee. And like Lillee, who never stopped haring in during each of his 70 Tests, Kumble carries on with the kind of enthusiasm and commitment that would shame someone a decade younger. He loped in to bowl his legspinners and googlies, batted with concentration, and also appeared to discuss with Chappell how he might make use of the extra bounce to snare the batsmen on the cut. Only those that evolve and improve stay ahead, and Kumble is now in a league of his own in India's spin pantheon.
What crisis? If you're prone to believing the hysteria merchants masquerading as TV reporters and journalists, you might have imagined that the India team was full of insecure, embattled individuals, each wondering who would be next in line for the chop. The bonhomie on view at nets and fielding practice laid bare those canards and lies for what they are - misinformed, malicious rumour-mongering. Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh - supposed targets on "Chappell's hit-list" - discussed tactics and shared a laugh or two with the coach, Sachin Tendulkar let out a primal scream after foxing Mahendra Singh Dhoni with a wrong `un, and VVS Laxman was all smiles after diving full length to his left to take a low catch.
And regardless of whether he plays or not, Wasim Jaffer slotted in seamlessly, doing arm-strengthening exercises with Greg King before Chappell talked to him about the mental preparation and focus needed. Unlike parliament, which apparently has no issues of import to debate, there was not a protest placard in sight.
India (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag (capt), VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh.
Sri Lanka (likely): Marvan Atapattu (capt), Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Jehan Mubarak, Chaminda Vaas, Malinga Bandara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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