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India look to steal march

Jamshedpur: With Sourav Ganguly leading from the front against South Africa, 32 months ago, the Indians overcame the Keenan jinx. Come Wednesday and the captain will again have to play a stellar role in ensuring the one-day series’ launch is as solid as the steel around here.

Indeed, it was largely Sourav’s unbeaten 105 which helped India to a convincing six-wicket win in that last ODI. Till then, in five games (including one which was abandoned) over 17 years, the Indians had drawn a blank. Now, with Sachin Tendulkar not available, the captain will have to shoulder bigger responsibility.

“That’s fine with me... In fact, I won’t be under more pressure than usual. In any case, I’ve got used to handling it,” Sourav told The Telegraph Tuesday evening, not many hours before the first of seven ODIs versus the West Indies.

[Owing to quickly deteriorating light, the match will begin at 8.45 am, 15 minutes before what was originally decided upon.]

Earlier, talking to the Media, Sourav acknowledged the visitors are “better” in the game’s shorter version and that too much ought not to be read into their 0-2 loss in the Test series. Incidentally, Carl Hooper himself felt his team packed more punch in the ODIs.

Though statistics may not always reveal everything, there’s no denying the Indians have had a great 2002: Sixteen victories as opposed to seven losses, with three abandoned games. It’s with good reason, then, that Sourav’s team is being considered among the hottest contenders for the February-March World Cup.

The last India-West Indies encounter was in the Caribbean, when India won 2-1 after the first two matches (in Kingston) were washed out. Sourav, of course, is looking to India being dominant but, being the pragmatic sort, didn’t make a prediction.

As for Hooper, “continuing” the fine work started at the Eden (third and final Test) is uppermost on his mind. “It’s going to be a fresh series and, while hoping the ball will roll our way, I’m specifically looking to continue from where we left off in Calcutta,” he declared.

The West Indies captain didn’t say so, but he will surely be praying he has a better run. If not anything else, he has the experience of 215 appearances to back him.

As with a clutch of centres, the Keenan wicket has also been relaid. While the mandarins are convinced it will hold firm, the many cracks made Hooper assess it as “funny”. Sourav, for his part, conceded it “looked different” from the usual (shiny) surface. He added the groundstaff had been advised to roll even more.

In keeping with tradition in the sub-continent, the captain winning the toss will opt to set a target instead of risking trouble by choosing to chase. Again, the first 15 overs will have a huge bearing on the outcome.

After a rethink, the Indians have decided to cap Jai Prakash Yadav and rest senior pro Jawagal Srinath. Dinesh Mongia and Sanjay Bangar will keep Srinath company off the field. Besides being a hard-hitter, Yadav can be counted upon for some overs of medium pace.

While there could be a change — flexibility, after all, must be a key element in ODIs — Ajit Agarkar is slated to assume the pinch-hitter’s role and bat at No.3. Yadav, therefore, can come no higher than No.8.

Speaking exclusively, Agarkar said he was “excited” that he may well have an additional role. “It’s going to be a challenge... I’m ready,” he added, smiling.

Sachin’s No.4 slot will go to V.V.S. Laxman, who hasn’t really been allowed to settle in the ODIs. “He’s a class player and one hopes he will use this opportunity to good effect,” is how Sourav put it.

The No.5 to 7 positions won’t be disturbed as both Sourav and coach John Wright don’t wish to ‘unsettle’ Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif. Sourav — who had a busy day as cousins Saspa and Durba are Jamshedpur-based — confirmed he would open with the latest blaster, Virender Sehwag.

With India fielding both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, the visitors’ spin-test is going to continue.

Predictably, the West Indies will be banking heavily on Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds at the very top of the order, besides Shivnarine Chanderpaul lower down. Though it was widely expected that one-day specialist Ricardo Powell will make the XI, the only ‘fresher’ is Vasbert Drakes.

Pedro Collins is back, while a right hamstring injury ruled out Cameron Cuffy. After being ignored in two of the three Tests, Mahendra Nagamootoo has finally made the cut. He could well have a big role, in addition to Hooper, whose off-spin has already claimed 189 victims.

Significantly, ODI No.1 for the TVS Cup will be the second India-West Indies shootout at the Keenan. The first was back in 1983-84 when Clive Lloyd’s team smashed 333 for eight in 45 overs and routed India. When someone sought to remind Sourav, he quipped: “Was I even born then'”

What he meant was look to the present Team India — favoured to win yet another one-day series.

TEAMS

INDIA: Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Ajit Agarkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Jai Prakash Yadav, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra.

WEST INDIES: Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, Marlon Samuels, Ridley Jacobs, Mahendra Nagamootoo, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon and Pedro Collins.

Umpires: Asoka de Silva, A.V. Jayaprakash. Third umpire: I.Sivaram. Match Referee: Mike Procter.

Hours of Play: 8.45 am to 12.15 pm; 1.00 pm till 4.30 pm.

Felicitation

Meanwhile, the Tata Steel managing director, Mr B.Muthuraman, will felicitate Sourav — a member of the Tata family — before the ODI gets underway. A move to felicitate Sachin had to be shelved once the hamstring injury ruled him out of the series.

According to Bihar Cricket Association president Amitabh Choudhary, Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi will be the chief guest.

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