Chennai: Is the current West Indies team the worst ever to have visited India' If the buzz around the city and at the Chepauk on Wednesday morning is any indication, this hypothesis is sure to draw an encouragingly positive response.
The Chepauk presented a picture unprecedented for a home series. The policemen on duty inside the ground outnumbered the journalists and hangers-on at the customary Test-eve practice of both teams. Whatever little pestering the stars faced from autograph-seekers was reserved for the Sourav Gangulys and the Sachin Tendulkars.
East’s new representative on the selection committee, Pronab Roy, feels that the current side will “struggle” to even match the 1978-79 Caribbean side, led by Alvin Kallicharran with the likes of Faoud Bacchus, Sylvester Clarke and Larry Gomes.
As if their problems with the Indian spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble were not enough, the visitors have also had to contend with the oppressive heat and humidity.
Mumbai was bad and it showed in the results. An innings drubbing inside four days is not the ideal way to start a series and Carl Hooper is sure there is going to be no let up here too. The mercury was close to 40°C by Wednesday afternoon and there is no hope of any significant change in the coming days.
The Indians, who have the chance to seal the three-Test series here and lay the foundation for a rare whitewash, have found all pre-match calculations going their way — the weather and the pitch.
Hooper’s oozing confidence, however, meant very little, given their current form. “We plan to play well over the next five days and take it from there. We came back from the Trinidad loss a few months ago and hope to put the Mumbai defeat behind us this time too,” were a few of the West Indies skipper and chief selector Vivian Richards’ trademark remarks at the press conference.
The wicket will continue to haunt Hooper & Co. here too. “It looks good and hard and will have some bounce early on. But it seems pretty similar to the one at the Wankhede and we expect it to start turning soon,” was Sourav’s observation.
Hooper’s reading seemed not much different. “There’s not a blade of grass and it looks even drier than Mumbai. I expect it will start turning square pretty early and the spinners will have a big role to play.”
Incidentally, despite the much-hyped relaying of the turf at all major centres across the country, not much seemed to have changed vis-à-vis the nature of the wicket. Sourav, though, had an explanation at hand.
“The pitch is not a patch of cement that it will invoke bounce and pace overnight. It will take some six months to show the desired results. Nevertheless, it’s been a step in the right direction and we have got to play more domestic cricket on these wickets to make them more lively.”
The Indians are all set to go in with an unchanged XI, but it does appear the Indians are not quite settled with the opening slot. Virender Sehwag may be a certainty but Sanjay Bangar’s role remains under the scanner.
His inability to rotate the strike in the opening Test has come in for criticism from various influential quarters and Sourav has kept his options open. “They have opened in very few Tests and haven’t really lived through pressure situations. We’ll have to wait and see.”
But the opening shortcomings have more or less been neutralized by the middle-order. Rahul Dravid has been fabulous and is on the threshold of equalling Everton Weekes’ world record of five hundreds in consecutive innings.
The occasion and setting might be just ideal for Sachin to launch another long innings. And Sourav will always hope for better luck for umpiring decisions.
The visiting attack is bound to come under another severe test, given their inability to make inroads into the Indian batting line-up thus far. The pacers have struggled in alien conditions and spinners have been found wanting in quality.
Amid the grim faces, one man who stood firm in the face of adversity was Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Sourav admitted the Guyanese posed a bit of worry. “Chanderpaul has made a lot of runs against India. This is probably one area we need to look at. A lot of lefthanders have made runs against us, from Matthew Hayden to Andy Flower to Chanderpaul.”
But one man’s effort will hardly prove a major handicap on the road to glory as was proved during the opening game. The Indians will once more be hoping for the age-old formula to click at home — bat first, bat long and then spin the opposition into submission.
India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Sanjay Bangar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath.
West Indies (from): Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, Ryan Hinds, Ridley Jacobs, Gareth Breese, Mervyn Dillon, Pedro Collins, Jermaine Lawson, Cameron Cuffy.
Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng), Asoka de Silva (Lanka). Third Umpire: K.Hariharan (India). Match Refeere: Mike Procter (SA).