Calcutta: It’s unusual for an October start to an Eden Test. At home, though, it’s not unusual for the Indians to be ensconced the way they are.
With the Exide Cup assured of a place among trophies at the Board’s HQ in Mumbai, it’s an unprecedented 3- 0 scoreline (versus the West Indies) that Sourav Ganguly is aiming at.
It was at the Eden, a shade over 19 months ago, that Team India took the first steps towards believing in itself. If the Test beginning Wednesday is even half that epic against Australia, much more than the money’s worth will be realised.
The visitors, of course, have been making bold statements — Ramnaresh Sarwan, for example. Yet, their performance has been anything but beautiful.
Actually, be it in Mumbai (an innings defeat) or Chennai (an eight-wicket loss), chief selector Sir Vivian Richards must have squirmed.
An absolute rookie on the 1974-75 tour of India, the legend made sure nobody missed his ‘arrival’.
Unfortunately, for the West Indies, nobody on his first India tour has come even remotely close to making an impact similar to their chief selector.
As a result, Carl Hooper has been reduced to talking of “playing for pride”. He must lead from the front if even a bit of pride is to be reclaimed.
Hooper’s best, thus far, remains 46 in the second innings at the Chepauk — hardly the form which saw him accumulate 579 during the April-May series in the West Indies.
More than anything else, the visitors’ problems have been compounded by the confused response to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The duo’s haul (15 for the off-spinner and 13 for the senior pro) confirms that.
It hasn’t helped, too, that the West Indies’ attack has been anything but lethal.
Though the Indians haven’t been stretched, Sourav isn’t taking anything for granted. “As always, we will try our best,” he remarked, after the Test-eve workout.
Strictly personally, Sourav will be hoping he isn’t also third time unlucky: Poor decisions at the Wankhede and in Chennai have meant he hasn’t gone closer to becoming the third Indian (after vice-captain Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar) to go beyond 1,000 runs in 2002.
Incidentally, while Dravid is the most prolific (1,195 runs) this year, Harbhajan is joint No.1 (53 wickets) with Shane Warne.
No disrespect to Kumble and Harbhajan (a hattrick-getter in the last Test here) — or, for that matter, Zaheer Khan who isn’t around — but Team India is largely fired by its peerless batting line-up.
Makeshift opener Virender Sehwag has been flowing like a natural at the very top and, then, comes the 24-carat middleorder.
V.V.S. Laxman, at No.6, hasn’t been scoring heavily. But, then, taking guard in another Test at the Eden should be inspiration enough by itself. Nobody, least of all Laxman himself, needs to be reminded of that classic 281.
In the midst of stars, one Sanjay Bangar keeps getting forgotten. Yet, in his quietly efficient manner, he has emerged a quality balancing-figure.
The message Bangar keeps sending is: Don’t count me out. Well, you can’t — not now at least.
Predictably, the “relaid” wicket has evoked much curiosity. Most feel the bounce will be low and the pace discouraging for the Jawagal Srinaths and Mervyn Dillions, but Sourav maintained it looks a “good Test track”.
[Srinath, who missed the last Test here owing to injury, will be staging a ‘comeback’, while Ashish Nehra will be making his first Test appearance within the country.]
Not surprisingly, Hooper’s opinion was at variance. “While it doesn’t look much different from the wickets in the first two Tests, it’s definitely very dry and spinners should quickly come into play.”
In any case, being an October start, the ‘sweating’ won’t be pronounced. Whatever the look, the captain winning the toss won’t bother to think about not batting first.
Influenced by the West Indies’ dismal show, much of the talk around town has been on whether this Test will really go the distance. The answer, frankly, rests with the maroon capwallahs.
For the record, both previous Tests, which began in October — versus Australia in 1964-65 and in 1979-80 — ended indecisively.
Meanwhile, according to The Telegraph’s sources, the visitors have dropped the out-of-form Ryan Hinds and his berth will go to the gifted Marlon Samuels.
Among bowlers, Mahendra Nagamootoo and Cameron Cuffy should be back — even though Darren Powell is also in the XII. Both were omitted after Mumbai.
The pedestrian Gareth Breese has been dropped, while quick Pedro Collins had to be left out on grounds of fitness.
Obviously, Hooper and coach Roger Harper are convinced a ‘new’ look could just make all the difference.
Umpires: David Shepherd and Asoka de Silva. Third umpire: A.V.Jayaprakash. Match Referee: Mike Procter.
Ricardo Powell, Vasbert Drakes and Corey Colleymore have been called-up for the seven-match one-day series.
One understands Daren Ganga, (Darren) Powell, Breese and Jermaine Lawson will be heading back once this Test series ends.
Match No.1 is in Jamshedpur, on November 6, while the last will be hosted by Vijayawada (November 24).