Upton takes over Kirsten's role
Paddy Upton, India's conditioning coach, has taken over the responsibilities from head coach Gary Kirsten, who flew back to South Africa yesterday evening to be with his ailing mother. In Kirsten's absence, Upton wasn't worried about having to delegate responsibilities to the Indian team, instead stressing to make sure the basics are all in place for a must-win game for India.
"Each person knows their role," he said during India's practice session at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium. "It's a case of just doing what we've always been doing and doing that well."
Kirsten's hands-on role, especially working on fielding drills with seniors such as VVS Laxman or the two wicketkeepers, Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel, was obvious all series. Today that responsibility was shared between Upton and fielding coach Robin Singh, but Upton was comfortable being more conservative.
"There are guys out there who have captained India," he said. "For me it's just a case of coordinating the expertise which is already in the team. Gary would give his expert input and receive input from the players, and even though he's not here, there are other experts."
India already have two specialist coaches, Venkatesh Prasad (bowling) and Robin, plus Upton in the support staff, and the Indian board isn't rushing anybody as cover for Kirtsen.
"The key is to prepare for every single possibility," Upton said. "Every game is critical in Test cricket. We know its 1-1 and we know how important it is. The players don't need too many reminders. Whether we win or lose the toss, our preparation is the same. We focus around what needs to happen to win. We're happy to take the consideration of the toss out of the picture."
It was a pretty hot day, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees, but not something India's players are unaccustomed to. Anil Kumble mentioned in Galle that players were allowed to leave training once they felt they had done enough, and Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were no different. They practiced earlier in the morning and left to freshen up while the rest of the team stayed on till early afternoon.
Parthiv had long batting and wicketkeeping stints but Upton said the choice of which wicketkeeper plays the final Test was not a decision he would be a part of. Sachin Tendulkar had the longest batting session, first receiving throw downs from Robin, virtually all of which were well timed, and then moved over to the nets, adjacent to Rohit Sharma's. Tendulkar, who needs 96 runs to overhaul Brian Lara's record of 11,953 runs in Tests, looked in a decent groove, though he was troubled a couple times by Prasad.
Which brings us to the nature of the pitch. One glance at it revealed how hard it was, even under a green tinge. There was plenty of grass on the track, but even Geoffrey Boycott would have found it very difficult to force a key in there. Shoaib Akhtar, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn have all rattled teams here in recent years, and there looks to be some encouragement for the quicks, especially India's opening pairing of Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan.
It is a different game and different pitch from the last two matches but as Upton said, India's strategy was the same - go in and win.
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo