India wary of banana skins on batting track
After months and months of hype, hype, and more hype - a build-up of such epic proportions that one spectator was willing to donate his kidney to watch this bunch play the World Cup - India begin their campaign on Saturday against their neighbours Bangladesh at Port-of-Spain. Pre-tournament predictions pointed to a slow, low surface at the Queens Park Oval and, while Sri Lanka's demolition of Bermuda pretty much indicated a good batting surface, India will be aware of the banana skins Bangladesh can strew along their path.
A peek into Bangladesh's memorable one-day moments will lead you to Northampton, Cardiff, Dhaka and Bogra, venues where they've upset major opposition. Sneaking through as a footnote will be Kingstown in St Vincent in their first one-dayer in Caribbean soil. They summoned only 144 but defended it admirably, getting within a wicket of pulling off a mighty upset.
Starring in that commendable defence was a left-arm spin bowler, Manjural Islam Rana, whose death in an accident on Friday shocked the cricketing world. At 22 he was Test cricket's youngest casualty in the modern era, an event that plunged Bangladesh's national squad into mourning on the eve of their World Cup opener. "All the boys are really shocked and upset," revealed Bangladesh's captain Habibul Bashar at the pre-game press conference. "Some of them also cried because he was very close to us. It is very sad news."
Bangladesh will walk out in black arm-bands tomorrow in one of the few opening-round games that has the ability to produce an upset. The two teams have never met in a World Cup match and India will be treading with caution. "We haven't played them for a couple of years, which is something we have discussed", Rahul Dravid, India's captain, said on Friday . "We don't really know them, some of their more experienced players have been dropped, they have got a pretty young side.
"We have looked through a lot of video footage of their current players, we have discussed a lot of their players, the way they bat and the way they bowl. They have shown in the last few months that they are closer to the top eight teams in the tournament rather than to the minnows. That wasn't the case in the last World Cup, where they were closer to the other bunch. But yeah, we respect them, they have shown that they can play really well."
Dravid brushed off notions of a billion expectations, adding that the team was more keen on fulfilling their own. "I think it's a great opportunity, a chance to make a lot of people happy," he said. "At the end of the day, the boys can only try their best. What is more important is our own expectations - we should not let ourselves down. We have to go out there and do the best for ourselves and the team. If we can do that, then people will be satisfied. At the end of the day, yes they want us to win, but more importantly they want us to be good representatives of our country and do our best."
Dravid said India decided their XI but added that he would rather not reveal the side. "We would just like the opposition to spend a little more time in their team meeting, discussing 15 names rather that just 11 or 12. But we know what we are going to play and are comfortable with that."
Picking India's first ten might be pretty straight-forward - seven batsman, one spinner, three fast bowlers - but the final slot, a likely toss-up between Irfan Pathan and Robin Uthappa, might have caused some furrowed brows. A shock option at the top of the order or a tried and tested [and currently tepid] allrounder lower down? A sell-out Queens Park Oval crowd, with tremendous Indian flavour, is set to find out at 9 a.m. tomorrow when the captains go out for the toss.
India (likely) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Sachin Tendulkar, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel
Bangladesh (likely) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shahriar Nafees, 3 Aftab Ahmed, 4 Saqibul Hasan, 5 Habibul Bashar (capt), 6 Mohammad Ashraful, 7 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 8 Mohammad Rafique, 9 Mashrafe Mortaza, 10 Abdur Razzak, 11 Shahadat Hossain
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo