| Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh during practice at the Dambulla Cricket Stadium on Friday
Dambulla: For once, India take to a tournament with much of the glare on the coach, not a star-rated batsman. This can only help Rahul Dravid as the potentially defining 2005-06 season gets underway on Saturday.
The glare is also on somebody who isn’t here: Sourav Ganguly. The former captain, eligible from the tri-series’ third league match, reaches Sri Lanka on Sunday.
“It’s the start of a new innings, but there aren’t any knots in the stomach... Having said that, I do want the first match quickly out of the way,” Chappell told The Telegraph.
Dravid, on the other hand, spoke of “challenges.” First, not allowing wily Muttiah Muralidharan to dominate and, then, beating the hosts.
“Sri Lanka have a good record at home, but history is best forgotten,” he insisted.
That’s a reasonable take, but Dravid must also be aware his captaincy is under scrutiny. He’s not exactly filling-in for Sourav and excellent marks may facilitate a longer tenure.
At stake, then, isn’t just the IndianOil Cup.
The Sourav-factor isn’t omnipresent. Still, Dravid maintained the “focus” was on the back-to-back ODIs ' Sunday’s face-off is with the West Indies ' not on any selection ‘problem’ once his predecessor lands.
“We can worry about the rest when we get to that stage... Right now, the back-to-back ODIs matter most,” he declared.
Asked whether he felt much was always expected of him, Dravid replied: “Right through my nine years, I’ve never felt I’ve had to play a lone hand... I’ve played with greats and, even now, I’m confident somebody or the other will put his hand up...”
Indeed. The three-and-half months lay-off is a thing of the past and it’s time to be counted.
Sadly, owing to a horses for courses policy, the team’s senior-most pro, Anil Kumble, has been counted out of the season-launcher ' he isn’t in the XIII shortlisted late on Friday.
Similarly placed is Lakshmipathy Balaji, who may ‘drown’ his disappointment with more pool at the idyllic team hotel here.
One learns that though both rookies, Suresh Raina and Yalaka Venugopal Rao have made the ‘cut’, they have to wait for cap No.1. It’s going to be a big match where experience is bound to be more handy.
Unless there’s a rethink and Mahendra Singh Dhoni gets promoted, Virender Sehwag will open with V.V.S. Laxman. That this could happen was reported in these columns the very day the squad was picked.
Allrounder Jai Prakash Yadav, whose last ODI appearance was almost three years ago, is making a comeback.
The Sri Lankans have been hit hard by injuries, with Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa not available. However, as captain Maravan Atapattu pointed out, “opportunities” have been created for those who wouldn’t otherwise have played.
It couldn’t be confirmed, but it appears allrounder Dilhara Lokuhettige is being capped. There was talk of blooding opener Upul Tharanga as well, but it seems the captain is himself going to open with veteran Sanath Jayasuriya.
Significantly, at an interaction with the Media, Atapattu didn’t agree his team starts as the favourite. Not that he strongly disagreed, though.
The hosts haven’t featured in ODIs for quite a while, but they’re coming off a successful Test series against the West Indies. As an Ian Chappell would say, “Test cricket prepares you for everything...”
The Indians, of course, need to erase ' to the extent possible ' memories of ending last season with four ODI defeats in succession. Worse, they were at the hands of Pakistan.
INDIA: Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jai Prakash Yadav, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra.
SRI LANKA: Sanath Jayasuriya, Maravan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold, T. Dilshan, Upul Chandana, Farveez Mahroof, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Muttiah Muralidharan, Dilhara Fernando.
Match starts: 2.00 pm (IST).
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive Duleep Mendis has announced the Indians won’t have to de-register anybody once Sourav arrives: “There are no restrictions and there’s no controversy.”