The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sourav draws strength from 'lucky' Motera
- Harbhajan doubtful starter; Wicket worries Indian thinktank

Ahmedabad: Their fields of activity may be vastly different, but Sourav Ganguly is drawing strength from his past performances at the Motera in Narendra Modi's state.

While the chief minister is hell-bent on rebuilding his battered image after fighting off threats to his leadership, the Team India captain is seeking a turnaround on the banks of the Sabarmati. Reaching the 10,000-run landmark ' he is 51 short ' in the land of the Mahatma will only be apt in the circumstances.

'The 10,000 seems to be taking almost 10,000 days to come,' he jokingly remarked on Monday. The statistics favour him, however, and he's aware that only runs can help him wriggle out of one of the worst times of his career.

'I not only got my last one-day hundred at home (144 versus Zimbabwe in 2000-01) here, I also have two Test centuries to show,' he recollected. 'I hope I will be lucky again.'

The one thing that is sure to keep the thinktank worried is the wicket. The Indians fear that the brittle top layer will make things difficult for the team batting second. Sourav did not waste the opportunity when Gujarat Cricket Association president Narhari Amin made a courtesy visit to the dressing room, accompanying him to the middle to show the exact areas of concern on both sides of the wicket.

Having won in Jamshedpur and 1-2 in arrears in the Pepsi series, the Indians know Pakistan will come hard and, hence, surrendering the slightest of advantages will not be worthwhile.

'The pitch will favour the spinners,' was Inzamam-ul Haq's observation.

Having Harbhajan Singh in the team in these conditions would have been ideal, but a side strain has put the off-spinner's participation 'in doubt'. The Telegraph has learnt that the injury happened in Jamshedpur while he was throwing one to the 'keeper from the deep. In case Harbhajan fails to make it, Murali Kartik will take his place.

On the positive front, Lakshmipathy Balaji has recovered fully and will be available. He is likely to replace Irfan Pathan, who is sure to forget his spell at the Keenan in a hurry.

Both teams reached the city around noon from Mumbai and made it to the ground only late in the afternoon.

For the visitors, it was more of physical conditioning and light nets but the Indians had an extensive session.

Sachin Tendulkar, who, like Sourav, has struggled in the one-dayers, was the most serious. He batted for close to an hour, concentrating on his back-foot play with help from Virender Sehwag and John Wright.

While a furore is being created in certain quarters over Sourav's bad patch, the fact remains that apart from Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, none of the top-order batsmen can boast of contributing anything of significance. An off-day for the trio spelt disaster in Jamshedpur and the captain will only be hoping that it doesn't get repeated.

Sourav was pragmatic when asked about his form at the media conference. 'There's bound to be criticism when there are no runs. But I have received support and encouragement too during this period. I have been successful over the years and there's no reason why I cannot repeat the same. It's important how quickly I can be back among runs.'

Sourav ruled out chances of his opening the innings here but has kept that option open for the next two games.

Reiterating that the loss in the last game will have no impact on the team's confidence, Sourav ruled out the oppressive heat being a deterrent. 'It's been there throughout the series. If we have to win the series, we've to fight the heat as well.'

Pakistan have decided to go in unchanged and Inzamam is hoping the dual spin attack of Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Malik will come in handy. 'Malik will bowl again. He bowled after a long in Jamshedpur. He is getting back into rhythm and I'm counting on him,' the Pakistan captain remarked.

While Sourav and Inzamam tried to play down the aspect of toss being a deciding factor, it's no secret that both will be hoping to make first use of the conditions on Tuesday.


INDIA: Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Murali Kartik/Harbhajan Singh.

PAKISTAN: Salman Butt, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Rana Naved-ul Hasan, Mohammed Sami, Danish Kaneria.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, K. Hariharan. TV umpire: A.V. Jayprakash.

Match starts: 9 am.

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