Indians prepare to get down to business
On February 9 1971, the touring Australians, playing their warm-up match at Jarrett Park in Montego Bay, were confronted by a sturdily-built youngster, one who the locals had hyped to dizzying levels. He was just one season old, but his ability to biff the ball had already set tongues wagging. Anti-climactically he failed in both innings, bowled by Geoff 'Bomber' Hammond in the first innings and lbw to Kerry 'O Keefe in the second. Hammond, we have it from Ian Chappell, audaciously proclaimed that the youngster was getting nowhere and would find it tough to play at the higher level.
Twenty years and 8540 Test runs later, 'Bomber' Hammond was probably eating humble pie. Viv Richards might have failed in his first stint against international opposition but it was to be one of the few bleeps in what would be an amazing career. The touring Indians begin their Caribbean campaign with a one-day game against Jamaica at the same venue, a scenic setting around 200 kilometres from Kingston.
It was pretty obvious that the Indians were keen to acclimatise themselves to the extra bounce and pace that some wickets may provide - practising with odd-shaped balls on concrete pitches and the like - and the Jamaican pace attack might provide them with a stern test. Jerome Taylor, Darren Powell and Jermaine Lawson have been named in the side - though the first two might not play if picked in the West Indies squad - and their spunk and nip could pose a few tricky questions.
The Indians suffered their first injury scare of the tour when Ramesh Powar twisted his right ankle while fielding at mid-on, during the team's simulated practice session at Chedwin Park. Despite Powar showing visible pain, limping back to the team bus, the team management stressed that it was only a minor problem, adding that he was fit. Yet, one wonders if they would like to risk playing him in the Montego Bay opener.
The Indians will begin the game riding a red-hot streak, having notched up 18 wins in the last 24 games, and would probably experiment with their combination before the opening one-dayer on May 18. Refreshed after a rare three-week break and suitably charged up after two days of practice at Chedwin Park, they appeared upbeat ahead of the contest. The fact that nine of the players have never played in the Caribbean will help keeping the enthusiasm levels high and it provides an ideal chance for Mohammad Kaif, in the midst of a dreadful run, to stake his claim. Rested for the last game against England, as well as for both matches against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last month, Kaif would do well to grab this opportunity.
Jamaica Wavell Hinds (capt), Chris Gayle, Donovan Pagon, Marlon Samuels, Daren Powell, Jerome Taylor, Nikita Miller, Carlton Baugh (wk), Jermaine Lawson, Tamar Lambert, Bevon Brown, Danza Hyatt, Andrew Richardson, Damion Ebanks, Donovan Sinclair.
Indians Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid (capt), Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Ramesh Powar (unlikely), Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Munaf Patel, Y Venugopala Rao.
Umpires: Norman Malcolm and Cecil Fletcher.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo