Sydney green-top awaits Indians
I would’ve picked Sidhu: Shastri
Dutta cautious on eve of tie vs JCT
Union Club A in lead
Chatterjee emerges champion
Close verdicts keep crowd on toes
Clifden fancied

Sydney, Jan. 1 
A battered India will look to prevent a 0-3 rout by the all-conquering Aussies despite teething problems in the side and an unusually green pitch laid out for the third and final Test starting here tomorrow.

Sachin Tendulkar’s men have arrived at the fag end of a miserable Test series, having failed in all departments despite the skipper’s valiant knocks, which only helped the Indians avoid the ignominy of innings defeats at Adelaide and Melbourne, where they lost by 285 and 180 runs, respectively.

India’s biggest problem is their brittle batting which has been further weakened by the thumb fracture to regular opener Sadagopan Ramesh — struck by young pace sensation Brett Lee. It has left them with no option but to bring back Devang Gandhi, who made four and zero in the first Test.

Middle-order batsmen Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly have also not struck form and the Indian batting has presented a pathetic picture thus far.

India’s hopes of reversing their fortunes at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which has traditionally helped spinners, have been dealt a huge blow as a grassy pitch has been laid out to help seamers Glenn McGrath, Lee and Damien Fleming.

So green is the wicket — described as one of the quickest at the venue by curator Tom Parker — it is hard to distinguish it from the rest of the ground.

The pitch does not sport any bald patches that traditionally help spinners here. “It’s nice and flat with a good cover of grass. It’s good and hard and will be fairly fast. If I was a selector, I would retain the same XI,” said the curator.

The turf is in total contrast to the one on which India beat New South Wales by 193 runs in a four-day encounter last month where leg-spinner Anil Kumble returned a match-haul of eight for 88.

Tendulkar was not surprised by the grassy track laid out at the SCG, where spinners have traditionally found favour, but felt it would still take turn.

“The wicket looks hard. It has grass on it but I think that is to cover cracks on the pitch. It will help spin too. In the four-day game we played here, it did turn,” the ‘Little Master’ said.

The 23-year-old Lee, who will be playing in front of his home crowd, will obviously be fired up and draw inspiration from his debut venture in Melbourne where he took seven for 78 in the match including a five-wicket burst in the first innings.

“I was really charged up when the people at the MCG were roaring in support. It should be better here on my home turf,” Lee said. “You can start bowling reverse swing from 20-25 overs at the SCG while it takes upto 50 in other places,” he added.

He said even if the pitch does not offer pace, he can push batsmen on the back foot and claim a few victims using the variable bounce.

While Steve Waugh’s men look to seal their seventh consecutive Test victory and their second straight clean sweep after the 3-0 rout of Pakistan, India are under tremendous pressure to salvage some pride.

India’s biggest worry has been the failure of the technically sound Dravid and Ganguly. Dravid’s highest in the series is only 35, in the first innings at Adelaide. With the openers faring miserably, the middle order has proved unable to withstand the pressure.

The Indian bowling has also failed to cash in on the life in the pitches that has been exploited to the hilt by the host bowlers. Both in Adelaide, where Australia were left gasping at 52 for four, and in Melbourne they let slip the advantage after getting rid of the top order.

India lack options even in the spin department. While leggie Anil Kumble has failed to deliver despite getting bouncy tracks to send down his fastish stuff, young off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who finished with none for 141 from 47 overs against Tasmania at Hobart, is hardly in the reckoning.

In contrast, Shane Warne is charged up to overhaul pace legend Dennis Lillee’s Australian record of 355 Test wickets, needing just five more. Mark Waugh will also reach a milestone as he will become the sixth Australian and the 21st player to play 100 Tests.    

Calcutta, Jan.1 
With the focus currently on Sydney, where the third and final Test begins tomorrow, rewinding to the last India versus Australia clash there (1991-92) is pretty much in order.

Of course, most of the headlines then were monopolised by Ravi Shastri, whose 206 remains the highest individual score by an Indian against Australia.

Incidentally, that drawn 1991-92 Test — which, too, began on January 2 — marked Shane Warne’s debut. But he was far from menacing then and returned forgettable figures of 45-7-150-1. Now, however...

The Mumbai-based Shastri, just back from commentary assignments in Zimbabwe, spoke to The Telegraph the other day.

Following are excerpts

On being credited with the highest individual score (by an Indian) against Australia

Does feel nice... In fact, I don’t think many openers have got double hundreds in Australia. Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar), for one, had looked good for 200 more than once, but fell short...

On the openers’ approach, specially in Australia

Mentally, they’ve got to be tough. Then, early on, they’ve got to be very selective in shot-making. Not just the openers, but all batsmen must back themselves and play to their strengths. Be positive and play the shots which come naturally, don’t manufacture them. And, yes, don’t be overawed by reputations.

On just how different it is batting in Australia compared to most of the other countries

The bounce, for one, is much more appreciable which means technique has to be of the top-drawer kind... Also, the mental toughness apart, one has to be supremely fit.

Remember, the boundaries are long and, so, fours aren’t easy to come by. Actually, you could end up running a string of twos and threes. Stamina-wise, you can’t be found wanting.

On the openers’ flop-show on the current tour

Ramesh looked in reasonable nick and the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. As for Laxman, well, he’s basically a middle-order bat who got promoted... Devang? I wouldn’t be too harsh. He can only learn and should be able to make technical adjustments... Devang could look at hooking and pulling to counter the balls that stare at his face.

On his long partnership with Sachin Tendulkar during his epic innings (at the SCG)

Sachin posted a brilliant hundred (148 not out)... Even though he was just 18 or so, he exhibited the mental toughness of a seasoned pro... I remember the Ausssies were ‘improving’ my vocabulary and when I told one of the substitutes — Mike Whitney, if I remember right — something, after I’d got to my hundred, Sachin remarked he too would counter the sledging by saying something on getting his hundred!

(Laughs) Well, I suggested he stay cool, pointing out that somebody with his talent should only speak with his bat... With me, it was different as I didn’t have his skills... Sachin got the message and allowed his bat to talk.

On the ‘provocation’ from Whitney

He said something while threatening to run me out. I responded on the lines of: “You so-and-so, if you bowl as well as you claim to throw, you wouldn’t be the 12th man...”

Thereafter, not just Whitney, everybody stopped sledging.

On Sachin’s Test hundreds on that tour (Sydney and Perth) and the one at the MCG earlier this week

Oh, both were superb hundreds (in 1991-92) but the one on Tuesday was even better. Not too many strokes but, technically, you couldn’t find a fault.

Mind you, it couldn’t have been easy — Sachin got two bad decisions in the first Test, the team was floundering, the wicket had bounce... Then, the pressure of being captain... But bottomline is Sachin was brilliant.

On the pressure captains face

It makes a difference when you’re captaining as opposed to simply being just any other player... However, this is not to suggest captaincy is a burden. Far from it... Indeed, any talk about the captaincy weighing down Sachin should now be dumped in the bottom-most drawer.

But, yes, I don’t think Sachin is a natural leader like some of the others. At the same time, nobody has his skills. Absolutely nobody can set a better example... Even captains keep learning and Sachin isn’t an exception.

On India being comprehensively beaten in the Test series

I knew it would be tough... The batsmen, though, left me disappointed. The bowlers have done fairly well, but...

We know the Test series is lost, but it’s important to be competitive at the SCG. The tour, after all, isn’t over. The Indians, by the way, should be comfortable with the bounce in Sydney — unless the wicket this time has little of the SCG tradition and behaves menacingly.

On whether his 16-strong Test squad would have been any different

I would have made one change — picked Sherry (Navjyot Sidhu)... He’s quit now, but was available at the start of the season. With an eye to the Tests in Australia, I would have selected him against New Zealand, too... I wouldn’t have lost track of him.

On what separates the Aussies from the rest

They play to win... Their mind-set is such they won’t wait for things to happen. In other words, they don’t look to merely saving a game... Really, the difference is in attitude... Having said that, tactically, I think we’ve been too defensive.

Finally, on the forthcoming Carlton and United Series

Australia start favourites and, as usual, Pakistan will remain unpredictable. India? I expect a much better show as, by the start of that series, most of the players would have come to terms with the wickets.

Hopefully, our expectations won’t be belied.    

Calcutta, Jan. 1 
After a string of impressive performances in 1999, Amal Dutta’s Tollygunge Agragami will begin their new millennium campaign versus JCT in a Coca-Cola National League match at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium tomorrow.

Tollygunge have ten points from four matches and only Churchill Brothers, with 12 points, are ahead of them. JCT, on the other hand, have just five points. But the veteran coach, who was presented a Maruti car yesterday, is not taking any team lightly.

“This is a crucial phase of the league, a defeat at this stage can prove disastrous in the end,” Dutta said, somewhat cautiously. “We’ll take things as they come and try to improve our position gradually. We won’t go for instant success,” the seasoned coach said. He hinted that he might begin tomorrow’s match in a defensive frame of mind and look to strike at an opportune moment.

He will, of course, miss striker Srikanta Dutta who is out with two bookings. But Dutta had a good news as well. Injured medio Jayanta Sen, who impressed experts earlier this season, has recovered and is likely to play for some time tomorrow. That should add creativity to Dutta’s midfield which relies mainly on hard work.

Dutta, who has not seen JCT recently, said he is not expecting his rivals to spring any major surprise. “As far as I know, they rely mainly on running and enjoy shooting from a distance. There left-half (Hardeep Sangha) is said to be good as is stopper Deepak Mondal.”

Dutta’s JCT counterpart, national coach Sukhwinder Singh, has a simple philosophy. “For us, every match is equally important. Being an ‘away’ match, this doesn’t assume special significance. We’ll play our normal game,” he said.

There are no fitness or card problems in his side apart from a minor injury to left-back Prabhjyot Singh and the coach expects the lack of stars in his side to prompt Tollygunge to show a little more aggression.

“I’ve not seen them this season but heard that they depend on counter-attacks. We have to take them seriously as they have already bagged ten points,” Sukhwinder said. “But as far as I know, there are no outstanding individuals in their ranks,” he noted.

Unlike most visitors, the JCT coach had nothing to complain about the condition of the venue which is disliked by many for its smaller expanse.    

Calcutta, Jan. 1 
At the end of five sessions played on the first day of the two-day Oindrilla Kundu Memorial bridge tournament today, Union Club A led the field with a remarkable score of 110 Victory Points (VP) out of a maximum possible 125.

The Union team comprises Nanti Sen, Robi Nag, Siba Pada Ghosh, Dhurjoti Banerjee and Soumik das.

The only other team to record a three-figure score on the first day was JCT, on 104.Trambak Rubber, one of the favourites, were lying third with 99.

Recent state champions and Ruia Trophy semi-finalists Haldibari had an off day, scoring only 83, as had star-studded Kushari’s IV with 79, but with seven more session to be played tomorrow both these teams are likely to move up into the top bracket.

A total of 96 teams turned up at the Dakshin Kalikata Sansad for the annual meet, held in Kundu’s memory. Three teams are to play 12 session of Swiss league for the title which offers 12 prizes totalling Rs 45,000. The winner gets Rs 12,000.    

Calcutta, Jan.1 
Laltu Chatterjee of Eastern Railway emerged champion in the international rating chess meet organised by Belur Chess Lovers’ Association today.

After nine rounds, Laltu finished with seven points as did Shanker Roy but the former was awarded the title after a tie-breaker.

Laltu bagged Rs 10,000 and Shanker settled for Rs 6,000. Shubhrajit Saha finished third with 6.5 points and won Rs 4,000. Nisha Mohota (6.5), Arindam Mukherjee (6) and Biswajit Roy Chowdhury (6) came fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.    

Calcutta, Jan. 1 
Verdicts were close in most of the eight events on New Year’s Day to keep a vast turnout on its toes. The excitement reached flash-point in the star-sponsored event, the Eveready Calcutta Gold Cup, when the odds-on favourite Alternator found a perfect match in his ownermate Bountiful Treasure. Involved in a desperately close-finish, the two Deepak Khaitan-owned horses had to be separated by the camera which gave the verdict in favour of the public rage.

The story was slightly different in the other sponsored events — The Telegraph Cup and the Britannia Cup — which, incidentally, were also bagged by the Khaitans. Athletico, in the Britannia Cup, was, however, somewhat lucky when two of his potential rivals injured themselves at the start and were withdrawn. The Vijay Singh-trainee was hard-pressed by Rheinheart for a neck-victory.

The Telegraph Cup, on the other hand, was an easy picking for the Vijay Singh-trained Allodium, thanks to the changed tactics adopted by jockey Ruzaan on the joint-favourite, Super Smile. Known for her finishing prowess, the filly was taken to the front right after the start.

The day also had an element of tragedy. A seven-year-old horse Decoy, in the Energizer Cup, was chocked to death after bursting blood vessels. RESULTS

1. Britannia Cup 2,200m: (2-6-1-4) Athletico (C. Alford) 1; Rheinheart (Shanker) 2; Air Command (M. Narr-edu) 3; Carabineer (Bhati) 4. Not run: Amerrico (3) & Consolidate (5). Won by: Nk; 1-1/4; 5; (2-28.3). Tote: Win Rs 16; Place: 10; 23; Quinella: 29; Tanala: 70. Fav: Athletico (2). Winner trained by Vijay S.

2. Eveready Heavy Duty Cup 1,200m: (5-1-6-2) Merano (Eddery) 1; Sky Command (Manohar) 2; Klondyke Rose (Shanker) 3; Aznavour (Connorton) 4. Won by: 2-1/4; 3-3/4; 3/4; (1-13.5). Tote: Win Rs 15; Place: 14; 22; Quinella: 30; Tanala: 398. Fav: Merano (5). Winner trained by D. Byramji.

3. Tez Tea Calcutta Sprinters’ Trophy 1,200m: (3-2-4-6) Head Hunter (M. Narredu) 1; Clarice Cliff (Prakash) 2; Joe The Pro (Connorton) 3; Alsadena (Kader) 4. Won by: 3/4; Nk; 1-1/4; (1-13). Tote: Win Rs 25; Place: 13; 68; Quinella: 302; Tanala: 998. Fav: Alsadena (6). Winner trained by R. Alford.

4. George Williamson Indian Produce Stakes 1,200m: (5-2-4-6) Fame Star (C. Alford) 1; Aloritz (Kader) 2; Abstone Queen (Merchant) 3; Silver Toy (Ruzaan) 4. Won by: 3/4; 2-3/4; SH; (1-13.9). Tote: Win Rs 179; Place: 38; 16; Quinella: 123; Tanala: 3,606. Fav: Aloritz (2). Winner trained by Vijay S.

5. The Telegraph Cup 1,400m: (4-2-5-1) Allodium (C. Alford) 1; Super Smile (Ruzaan) 2; Winning Hand (Connorton) 3; Royal Applause (Merchant) 4. Won by: 1-1/4; 1-3/4; 2-3/4; (1-30.2). Tote: Win Rs 25; Place: 16; 15; Quinella: 22; Tanala: 148. Fav: Super Smile (2). Winner trained by Bharath S.

6. Eveready Calcutta Gold Cup 1,600m: (5-3-1-4) Alternator (Kader) 1; Bountiful Treasure (Connorton) 2; Allied Forces (Eddery) 3; Starry Flag (Ruzaan) 4. Won by: SH; 1-3/4; 3/4; (1-39). Tote: Win Rs 17; Place: 12; 23; 14; Quinella: 78; Tanala: 258. Fav: Alternator (5). Winner trained by Bharath S.

7. Nepal Gold Cup 2,200m: (5-3-1-4) Kaizen (Ruzaan) 1; Firecreek (Kader) 2; Super Sunrise (C. Alford) 3; Astrajoy (Amil) 4. Won by: 1-1/4; 2-1/4; 4-1/4; (2-20.7). Tote: Win Rs 41; Place: 17; 13; Quinella: 23; Tanala: 173. Fav: Firecreek (3). Winner trained by Bharath S.

8. Energizer Trophy 1,400m: (4-7-9-6) Giorgio (Kader) 1; Outrageous (Rutherford) 2; Consul’s Secret (Bhati) 3; Optimum Choice (Merchant) 4. Won by: 2; 3/4; 1-3/4; (1-27.5). Tote: Win Rs 18; Place: 12; 38; 78; Quinella: 122; Tanala: 3,186. Fav: Giorgio (4). Winner trained by D. Byramji.

Jackpot: Rs 4,564; (C) Rs 909.

Treble: (i) Rs 50; (ii) Rs 869; (iii) Rs 109.    

A n impressive second to Saddle up, the Katrak-trained Clifden may win the Maharaja Sir HarisinghjiTrophy in Mumbai on Sunday.


12.30 pm: Thundering Beauty 1. Sayyonee 2. Along All 3.

1 pm: Capitulate 1. Executive Decision 2. Amarilo 3.

1.30 pm: Tazo 1. Awesome Foursome 2. Infamous 3.

2 pm: Lovingly 1. Mischiefmaker 2. Thunder Clap 3.

2.30 pm: Fabulous Fiorella 1. Ocean Falls 2.Budapest 3.

3 pm: Grand Lodge 1. Mulan 2. Hearts In Motion 3.

3.30 pm: Realism 1. Solid Truth 2. Secret Blessing’s 3.

4 pm: Cruel Intention 1. Fabulous Fortune 2. Star Shine 3.

4.30 pm: Clifden 1. Khaalis 2. Girl From Ipanema 3.

5 pm: Henki 1. Act Of Trust 2. Gagan Glory 3.

5.30 pm: Boundless Thrill 1. Combined Venture 2. Salsa Dancer 3.

Day’s Best: Realism

Double: Clifden & Henki.    


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