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Indians keeping fingers crossed

Pietermaritzburg: The Namibians are hoping the opposition will have an off day, while the Indians are hoping that rain doesn’t spoil the Pool A show at The Oval here Sunday. The loss, after all, will be India’s and it won’t be limited to the two points if the game can’t be completed.

Late Saturday, there were indications — thanks to the weather — that the Harare XI could be retained. But, if a full game is on, the possibility of Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar making the cut is “high”. The combination, however, will be the same — 3-1.

“We’re keeping fingers crossed, but I realise we can’t do much about the weather,” remarked Sourav Ganguly, the Indian captain, adding: “Even the league stage of the World Cup ought to have had reserve days.” Significantly, “scattered rain” has been forecast.

India need to win big against first-timers Namibia, but with the sky overcast throughout Saturday, the thinktank was preparing “options.” As for the Namibians, anything should leave them happy, though captain Deon Kotze cautioned that the Indians too could be surprised by the “quality” of his team’s play.

“I don’t think England underestimated us, earlier in the week (Port Elizabeth), it’s just that our quality of play took them by surprise. We may do a repeat but, at this point, I’m simply hoping the Indians underestimate us and have an off day,” Kotze pointed out. Asked whether the Indians had a weakness, he promptly replied: “Don’t think so.”

The Indians, of course, will be doing anything but underestimating the ICC Trophy runners-up. Not only because they were, at one stage, very well placed versus England (three for 174 chasing 273), but because any let-up in intensity could prove fatal. In any case, the fear of the unknown can never be totally discounted.

Reflecting on that fine performance against England, a smiling Kotze said: “I think we went three-fourths of the way towards an upset...” In the first two matches, the Namibians were routed by Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

With the requirement being the full four points and an improvement in the NRR, the Indians are “reviewing” the option of “resting” Harbhajan Singh and one of the three quicks (Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra) who played in Harare.

Till late Friday, it was more or less certain that Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar would figure in the XI. Yet, 24 hours later, there was a “serious rethink.” In fact, if it’s an all clear day, there’s an outside chance that both Harbhajan and Kumble will find themselves in the shortlist with possibly Nehra being omitted.

However, as a member of the thinktank told The Telegraph: “Things are just too fluid... Moreover, the weather has complicated matters.”

With two big games coming up — against England and Pakistan — a miscalculation is bound to have an adverse effect. So, much as he would have liked a quickly formulated strategy, Sourav has to make allowances versus Namibia as well.

“The bigger teams are always a little tentative against the less experienced ones,” had been Kotze’s signing-off comment. Like it or not, he was spot on. Incidentally, quite a few Namibians have graduated from provincial academies in South Africa and the squad is coached by Warwickshire’s Douglas Brown.

What is confirmed about the Indians, though, is that the captain will bat at No.3 (not No.4) and Dinesh Mongia will drop one slot — this change was talked about in these columns a couple of days ago. What is also confirmed is that mere sentiment won’t get young Parthiv Patel his maiden World Cup cap. Not that sentiment should be a factor in determining the best XI.

Sachin Tendulkar, who missed Team India’s date with the rekindling of history Friday, was back at nets and didn’t look in discomfort. Sourav, for his part, insisted there wasn’t even a moment of doubt over Sachin’s availability. “He had some pain in the left palm and the specialist who examined him didn’t have anything alarming to say,” the captain explained.

With scores of 52, 36 and 81, Sachin has been India’s top batsman in the tournament.

The Oval, by the way, is a small ground with a 103-year-old mahagony tree inside the boundary on one side — quite like it is in Kent. The size and the tree, therefore, must feature in both teams’ planning.

With Pietermaritzburg itself having a reasonable population of Indian origin and Durban not far away, support for Sourav and Co. should be overwhelming. As the Indians push for 12 points before facing England, next Wednesday, that can only be welcome.

TEAMS

India (from): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Dinesh Mongia, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.

Namibia (from): Deon Kotze, Jan-Berry Burger, Louis Burger, Sarel Burger, Morne Karg, Danie Keulder, Bjorn Kotze, Lennie Louw, Gavin Murgatroyd, Gerrie Snyman, Stefan Swanepoel, Burton van Rooi, Melt van Scoor, Rudi van Vuuren, Riaan Walters.

Umpires: David Shepherd, Aleem Sarwar Dar.

Match Referee: Wasim Raja.

Match starts: 1.30 pm (IST).

Sourav saddened

Meanwhile, Sourav said he has been “saddened” by the one-year ban handed out to Shane Warne for drug abuse. “He’s at the end of his career and, so, the penalty will hurt... It’s sad and disappointing,” he remarked, while interacting with the Media Saturday afternoon.

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