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India’s time of reckoning in Rajkot

Rajkot: What was expected to be smooth sailing is turning to be a rough ride for India. After emerging convincing winners in the Test series, Sourav Ganguly’s team is having a tough time in the ODIs and another setback in the third match Tuesday will seriously dent their chances of winning the seven-match TVS series.

More than the 2-0 scoreline in favour of the visitors, what appears even surprising is the manner in which they have chased relatively high totals in both games. That too, without showing any sign of nerves. And with two of the most talked about spinners at their disposal, the Indians must be wondering what’s going wrong.

A silver lining could be visible for India Tuesday, what with West Indian skipper ruling himself out. True, one-day cricket in the sub-continent is predominantly a batsman’s game. But still, the authority with which the Caribbeans have treated Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in the first two one-dayers is causing a lot of concern.

The West Indian camp’s worry is over Hooper’s unavailability for the third match at the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium. Ricardo Powell, flown in for the one-dayers and not fielded in the first two games, will replace Hooper in the XI. Ridley Jacobs will lead the team.

Team manager Ricky Skerritt said Hooper has a slight knee injury. “As of now, he is out for just one match because he needs rest. It doesn’t seem that he will be out for long.” Skerritt added that Pedro Collins, named in the XII, is also a doubtful starter and Cameron Cuffy will play if Collins fails a fitness test Tuesday morning.

Unexpected rain kept the teams from having nets in the morning as the practice pitches were not covered, but the weather improved in the latter half of the day with the sun shining brightly.

India are thinking of bringing back J.P. Yadav in place of one of the spinners. The allrounder made his ODI debut in the first match Jamshedpur and made four. His bowled four overs for 22 runs without taking a wicket.

It is not clear how Yadav’s inclusion will make things better, considering his type of bowling is not known to be effective in conditions such as these. There is also a question mark over his position in the batting order, since the top six slots are booked by specialist batsmen, with the possibility of Ajit Agarkar coming in as pinch-hitter.

Sourav admitted he is awaiting an improved showing from the bowlers this time. “Our bowlers haven’t bowled well in the last two games, but they have done well over the last year,” Sourav said Monday. “I’m confident they will hit back and bowl us to a win tomorrow.

“We are still a good team,” added the Indian skipper. “We’re already behind 0-2 in the series and obviously we have to win here. There is pressure in every game and it keeps building if you don’t win, but that’s international cricket.”

The West Indies camp, on the other hand, is brimming in confidence, the Hooper setback apart. Starting from openers Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds, the Caribbeans have got runs from almost everywhere in the top order with Marlon Samuels producing low-profile yet crucial half-centuries in both games.

“Our team batted very well in the previous two matches,” Caribbean coach Roger Harper said. The former off-spinner felt this was the opportunity for his team to pile the pressure on India. “It’s a great opportunity here to get grip on the series by going three-up. A series win would put us in good stead for the World Cup but there’s a lot of cricket still to be played here.”

Harper attributed the improvement to lots of hard work.

TEAMS (likely)

India: Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra, J.P. Yadav.

West Indies: Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ricardo Powell, Ridley Jacobs, Mahendra Nagamootoo, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon, Pedro Collins/Cameron Cuffy.

Umpires: Asoka de Silva, A.V. Jayprakash. Third Umpire: K. Hariharan

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