Port of Spain: A dash of India in a faraway land is both surprising and pleasant. The drive from the Piarco International Airport to the heart of the city isn’t all smooth, but the pitfalls of a long flight is lessened when the strains of “yeh dosti, hum nahin chodenge…” catch you unawares.
The cabbie, a middle-aged Trinidadian of Indian origin who spent some time in Mumbai in the mid-70s, hasn’t forgotten his roots. “We’re waiting for the boys to explode,” he echoes the sentiments of the sizeable Indian community here, who have created an identity for themselves, very energetic, open and multicultural.
Welcome to Team India’s base camp for World Cup 2007. The days of relaxation are over — boat ride, putting on dancing shoes to the tune of reggae, et al — it’s time for serious business. In what is being termed as the Group of Death, the opener versus Bangladesh is sure to leave no room for complacency.
“I’m happy with the preparations. We’ve had a couple of good practice games and are keen to get on with real action,” Rahul Dravid said after practice at the historic Queen’s Park Oval.
The Team India captain made it clear that he was not inviting extra pressure on the players and instead has asked them to ‘relax’.
“There are various ways of looking at this,” he said Friday. “It’s a great opportunity to make a lot of people happy… We shouldn’t let ourselves down too… My message to the players has been to perform to the best of their abilities.
“I don’t think one person has the ability to make a difference in this sort of a tournament. Team effort will be the key. All the players will have to put their hands up and perform,” Dravid explained.
The form of Virender Sehwag, though, still remains a topic of national debate. Dravid’s support — “I’m backing Sehwag, I am not backing a Joe Blog”, the captain’s remark could well go down as the quote of the Cup — is now part of history and it will be up to the Delhi batsman to prove his mettle. The form of Robin Uthappa, no doubt, will keep him under pressure.
The thinktank is still undecided as to who will partner Sourav Ganguly at the top, but it is likely that the experienced Sehwag will be chosen ahead of the promising youngster.
One thing is certain. Irfan Pathan will have to sit out the opener along with Anil Kumble. Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar will form the pace combination. Harbhajan Singh will be the sole spinner with Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh there to offer support.
Bangladesh’s record has been impressive last year, having won 18 of their 28 ODIs. Although most of their victories have come against the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya, they won 64.24 per cent of their matches in 2006, second only to Australia (71.42).
In Shahriar Nafees, they have a batsman with immense potential. The vice-captain finished sixth among the top-10 ODI batsmen last year with 1033 runs from 28 matches, including three hundreds. If that’s not impressive enough, Mashrafe Mortaza topped the bowlers’ list with 49 wickets.
Dravid, too, spoke about the unknown element in Bangladesh’s ranks. “We haven’t played them for the last couple of years. They’re a pretty young side… They seem to be breaking away from their ‘minnows’ tag. They certainly are coming closer to the big teams.”
Coach Dav Whatmore derives hope from Kenya, who moved into the semi-finals in 2003. “Kenyan success four years ago will always be an inspiration for the underdogs,” says Whatmore, who won the World Cup with Sri Lanka in 1996.
“But at the same time, we can’t forget that they won three points after New Zealand forfeited their match in Nairobi. We can’t expect anything like that. We have to work hard for everything.”
No doubt,the victory over New Zealand in the warm-up game has also given them much hope.
Bangladesh players woke up to the news of the death of talented 22-year-old Manjural Islam (Rana), a Test player who was killed in a road accident back home on Thursday. They will look to overcome the shock and try and come up with a strong performance here in his memory.
India (likely): Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa,Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel.
Bangladesh (likely): Shahriar Nafees, Tamim Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, Saqibul Hasan, Habibul Bashar, Mohammed Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzaq, Syed Rasel, Tapash Baishya/Mohammed Rafiq.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Steve Davis. TV: Ian Howell.
Match Referee: Alan Hurst.
Match starts: 7 pm (IST).