Hyderabad: The magnificent capital of Andhra Pradesh is wearing a festive look for the ongoing international film festival for children. It is also ready for one more festive event — Saturday’s TVS Cup tri-series potboiler between India and New Zealand.
And make no mistake here. This is not going to be any child’s play. It is a match with almost everything at stake, at least as far as the whole of India is concerned. Missing out on a berth in the final at home is still way beyond the imagination of the average Indian cricket fan. But to avoid the blues, the so called Men in Blue will have to produce something they have not consistently been able to after a spirited showing in the World Cup.
Points earned by the teams so far in this tournament are not relevant anymore. Only a win, for either team, will ensure a ticket to Tuesday’s final at Eden Gardens. There is some encouragement from an unexpected front for Sourav Ganguly’s team though. His counterpart Stephen Fleming has been ruled out of this virtual semi-final.
The New Zealand skipper, according to coach Ashley Ross, has aggravated a chronic lower abdominal muscle strain. So Fleming is out and Chris Cairns is set to don the skipper’s cap. Allrounder Paul Hitchcock is also not available due to injury, and the visitors have just 12 to pick from for such a crunch match.
“He failed Friday’s fitness test. It seems the hectic schedule has taken its toll. But we have players in our ranks to make up for such losses. That’s the strength of our team,” said Ross.
“Fleming is one of the better captains in the world today and a fine batsman too. Missing him is a loss, but we have other significant leaders in this team. Leading is a process and captaincy is just holding a position. It’s difficult but we are sure we can overcome this.”
India’s problem, however, is totally different. This is a match where nothing other than winning will matter and finding the right combination is bothering Sourav and coach John Wright. They are keen to field three seamers, and yet, finding it difficult to make the necessary adjustments.
If they do go in with Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Avishkar Salvi, either a batsman (read Mohammed Kaif) or a spinner will have to be dispensed with. And with Harbhajan Singh fit again and given the good showing by Murali Kartik in the Bangalore carnage, it’s unlikely that either of the tweakers will be dropped.
This virtually tells the story. If Salvi does come in, most probably Kaif will get the axe. Anil Kumble, for the record, didn’t come to Chandrababu Naidu country with the rest of the players due to family engagements following his father’s death. He joined his teammates late in the evening. The leg-spinner’s chances of playing are slim.
“We know it’s a do-or-die match and have been in this situation earlier. We are under no pressure, it’s just that we have to go out and get things right. We are not worried at all,” said Sourav.
He did say that, but fact is that a look at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium pitch did cause some worry. It had a layer of grass on the eve of the last ODI it’s going to host since a new cricket stadium is being built here and expected to be ready by next year. The green cover, quite expectedly, was ordered chopped off. The curator and his aides, sporting an apologetic look, had no choice but to oblige.
The ground played host to the Afro-Asian Games football event just a fortnight back and withstood heavy showers during the competition. To the credit of the people responsible, it looks alright for an international match.
Sourav chose to underplay the absence of Fleming. “He is a good player. But we are prepared to play against a team, not individuals.” He was dead right but did not say that the need of the hour is a concerted effort from a team, rather than that of a few individuals like Sachin Tendulkar.
India will have to remember, New Zealand are still to lose against them on the current tour. It’s a precious record that they are chasing — of staying unbeaten in either form of the game on a tour of India. Letting them achieve that will not stand India in any good stead before the stern test Down Under.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif/Avishkar Salvi, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan.
New Zealand (from): Chris Nevin, Lou Vincent, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, Ian Butler, Darryl Tuffey, Kyle Mills.
Umpires: David Shepherd, K. Hariharan. TV umpire: I.Sivaram.
Hours of play: 2.30 pm to 6 pm. 6.45 pm to 10.15 pm.