It’s a point emphasised by the captain himself. “The pressure, really, is all on Australia,” Sourav Ganguly reminded.
Yet, indecision over whether or not to disturb the hottest ODI opening combination (Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav) has begun to raise the pressure-level somewhat. Sachin will open. The debate, really, is over the captain’s role.
Till late this evening, Sourav himself was undecided, though he was inclined to bat at No. 4. The logic being: Somebody with experience should be ‘withdrawn’ to ensure a relatively inexperienced middle-order wasn’t overwhelmed in a pressure-situation.
But, then, that’s only one side of the coin. After all, disturbing the Sachin-Sourav combination won’t send off the most positive of signals. In fact, it will be an acknowledgement that the Australian attack is feared.
In an era when body-language and mind games count for so much, the Indians should desist from any move which is akin to conceding ground.
It is understood Sourav has sounded out the two Singhs, Robin and Yuvraj, about opening, though the team feels Sourav himself should keep to the job he enjoys doing most. Eventually, if Sourav does come down, his slot could go to Sridharan Sriram, named in the XII at Sunil Joshi’s expense.
Yuvraj, unfortunately, may then sit out.
The composition of the XI has been put off till the morning. Even a lengthy team meeting — just before the players’ departure for the National Park photo session — ended inconclusively, quite in the manner of a confused political conclave.
Earlier, one look at the ‘virgin’ Nairobi Gymkhana wicket (which has a shade of green, and would have left Zaheer Khan’s fingers itching), this morning, is what prompted the thinktank to quickly dump the Joshi-option and pick Sriram, as back-up opener.
Significantly, Sriram’s only India appearance (versus South Africa, Nagpur) saw him bat at No.5.
The Australians’ appetite has already been whetted by the wicket, which is bound to have considerable ‘carry’. All the more reason why the most hardened pros must straightaway counter Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. It remains to be seen whether it will be so.
Incidentally, while most teams do get weighed down by the pressure-factor, Steve Waugh insisted his side isn’t affected. “If being world champions entails some pressure, well, I’ll accept it any time,” he pointed out, typically confidently.
To reinforce that, perhaps, Steve headed for the Inter-Continental pool right after the morning workout. Sourav, on the other hand, had headed for his room to try and end the mother of all debates.
Steve, however, pointed out too much ought not to be read into the hammering inflicted by Australia during the Carlton and United Series earlier this year. “That’s history, and I’m sure the Indians would like to put that behind them at the earliest.” The world champions won all four league matches.
Of course, it probably doesn’t have too much relevance here but, in the KnockOut’s inaugural edition (Dhaka, 1998), India ousted Australia in the quarters via a handsome 44-run win.
“Because the wickets here have bounce, Australia seem to have the edge. Still, the Sachin-factor simply can’t be discounted,” former Australian captain Ian Chappell told The Telegraph. So, will he then bet on Australia? “Never bet on human beings, mate,” he quipped.
With India lacking the Australians’ depth, essentially, much will depend on Sachin and Sourav — irrespective of whether we set or chase a target. Nothing new there but, then, that’s how it is.
Clearly, much also rests on the Sachin-McGrath ‘duel’. McGrath comprehensively got the better of Sachin in Australia, but the former Indian captain is looking to set a few things right.
As for Australia, they have a solid batting line-up, bowlers who give little breathing space and, overall, an outstanding fielding unit. Stuff which legendary teams are made of.
Shane Warne isn’t around, but Sourav didn’t think that’s a huge plus. “The Nairobi Gymkhana is a small ground and it’s not easy for spinners. Also, in the past, we’ve played him well...”
The Australians haven’t even shortlisted XII, but it’s unlikely that Mark Higgs (Warne’s replacement) is in the running. Coach John Buchanan, who expects “nothing less than a very tough game,” maintained “everyone is available for selection,” rubbishing speculation on the fitness of a couple of key players.
Everything, then, is in place for a down-to-the-wire finish. And, yes, should the wicket have appreciable moisture, the toss will have a bigger bearing than otherwise.
INDIA: Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Vinod Kambli, Yuvraj Singh/Sridharan Sriram, Robin Singh, Vijay Dahiya, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Venkatesh Prasad and Zaheer Khan.
AUSTRALIA (from): Mark Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Damien Martyn, Shane Lee, Andrew Symonds, Bryan Young, Ian Harvey, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Mark Higgs.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Steve Bucknor.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
The perfect picture of concentration on the field, off it Bevan is always relaxed.
Obviously, switching on-and-off comes easy. Bevan spoke to The Telegraph last evening, in his Inter-Continental hotel room.
Following are excerpts
On his possessing an incredible one-day record (average of 56-plus in 144 matches; 5x100, 32x50)
(Grins) I believe in always giving myself the best chance of staying out in the middle till the end... To take some of the pressure off myself, I seek to quickly find the gaps. Idea, of course, is not to take too many risks.
On now being moved up the order, to No.4
Yes, that has changed my role somewhat... Gives me the chance to try and play longer innings. Indeed, now, I have the opportunity to play to my strengths for more number of overs.
On whether being branded a one-day specialist only tends to, at times, frustrate him
I would certainly like to regularly play Test cricket but I’ve not been getting a chance as I wasn’t consistent when opportunities did come my way. I’m improving as a cricketer and, when the next Test-opportunity arises, I should make a better impression.
On whether the ‘Mr Dependable’ label puts him under pressure
(Grins again) Not really. I just try to do the same things, give every innings the best shot. After that, well, it’s for the people to draw their own conclusions. They will have their opinion about me in the one-dayers as they do about my Test career.
Basically, it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing.
On criticism that he isn’t too comfortable against real hot pace
At times I’ve handled the quicks well, other times I haven’t. I myself realise I need to be consistent.
On the early influences
I grew up admiring the Chappells, Rodney Marsh, the Borders... I was an Ian Botham fan, too. Strictly speaking, though, I never quite idolised anybody.
On his top priority with so much one-day cricket being played
To look after the body, to be regular with what I would describe as maintenance work.
One needs to strengthen specific areas... For instance, I’ve got a rotator-cuff injury and I need to make sure it doesn’t aggravate. I’m not one for general gym work.
On whether, in time, he could be classed a full-fledged allrounder
I first need to be consistent. I do bowl a lot at nets, however...
On interests outside cricket
(Laughs) There’s been so much cricket in the last five-six years, that there’s been little time to pursue non-career interests. But, yes, I’m fond of golf — the handicap varies from 10 to 14 — and surfing... Nowadays, the free time is largely spent with the family (wife Tracy and young daughter Olivia).
On what puts the Australian cricketers in a league of their own
An excellent grounding and an exemplary work-ethic. Competition in the Sheffield Shield (now Pura Milk Cup) is always demanding and, so, there never are any easy games... Really, we have an excellent structure. But, that’s not all — every individual works hard as none wishes to lag behind in the ‘race’.
On whether he is superstitious
Wouldn’t say so... (Adds laughing) Well, a few crop up if the going isn’t good!
On his favourite innings
In the one-dayers, I would pick three: 78 not out versus the West Indies in Sydney (1995-96), 103 against South Africa at Centurion Park (1996-97) and the 65 in last year’s World Cup semi-final versus South Africa (Edgbaston)... I haven’t played very many Test innings, but two I’ll always remember — 82 on debut against Pakistan (Karachi, 1994-95) and 87 not out versus the West Indies (Perth, 1996-97).
On the batsmen he admires
The big-hitters, whose style is so different to mine... Adam Gilchrists and the Lance Kluseners.
Finally, his message to the up-and-coming middle-order batsmen in ODIs
Keep a cool head, play to your strengths and don’t be rigid with the gameplan. You’ve got to know when you should be playing the shots you intend to. That awareness can make all the difference.
SELECTIONS2.45 pm: Prabhuti 1. Running Royal 2. Ancestry 3.
3.15 pm: Anthology 1. Come Prima 2. Consortium 3.
3.45 pm: Pass The Buck 1. Fortune’s Wheel 2. Shooting Mercury 3.
4.15 pm: Stavros 1. Dream Image 2. Zeisha 3.
4.45 pm: Zephyr Bay 1. Great Emperor 2. Accentuate 3.
5.15 pm: Cristina 1. Safarando 2. Flying Home 3.
5.45 pm: Burning Issue 1. Beautiful Stranger 2. Round Trip 3. Day’s Best: Prabhuti Double: Anthology & Zephyr Bay
Friday’s Mysore Results
(With inter-state dividends)1. Gaganachukki Plate 1,400m: (2-4-10) Lali (Ramesh) 1; Venture Adventure 2; Free World 3. Won by: 2-1/4; 2-1/4; (1-30.4). Tote: Win Rs 84; Place: 25; 24; 26; Quinella: 243; Tanala: 3,267. Fav: Tina’s Turn (3).
2. Bharachukki Plate 1,200m: (10-1-12) Risk Me Now (Rajesh S.) 1; Gallant Chief 2; Cleo 3. Won by: 1-3/4; SH; (1-16). Tote: Win Rs 54; Place: 19; 29; 72; Quinella: 670; Tanala: 25,876. Fav: Arabian King (6).
3. The Hindu Gold Cup 1,800m: (4-1-3) Athabasca (Rajesh) 1; Aerobee 2; Activator 3. Won by: 1-1/2; Nk; (1-53.7). Tote: Win Rs 48; Place: 18; 25; Quinella: 87; Tanala: 190. Fav: Activator (3).
4. Kemparaj’s Trophy 1,600m: (1-6-2) Estocade (Ramesh) 1; Almaz 2; Solo Act 3. Not run: Something Fishy (8). Won by: 2; SH; (1-41.6). Tote: Win Rs 54; Place: 19; 16; 45; Quinella: 111; Tanala: 1,822. Fav: Our Pedestal (4).
5. Western Outdoor Gold Cup, Div-II 1,200m: (5-2-6) Silent Honour (Pra-kash) 1; Own Evita 2; Save The Day 3. Not run: Decision Maker (7). Won by: 1/2; 2-1/4; (1-14.4). Tote: Win Rs 24; Place: 14; 22; 37; Quinella: 74; Tanala: 835. Fav: Silent Honour (5).
6. Meerut Plate 1,100m: (6-10-1) Always Aloof (Krishnan) 1; Silver Falcon 2; Red Angel 3. Won by: 3/4; 3-3/4; (1-9.3). Tote: Win Rs 217; Place: 32; 78; 14; Quinella: 4,340; Tanala: 21,622. Fav: Red Angel (1).
7. Western Outdoor Gold Cup, Div-I 1,200m: (5-7-1) Psychedelic (Hesnain) 1; Royal Crichton 2; Travel Around 3. Won by: 5; 1/2; (1-14.9). Tote: Win Rs 29; Place: 13; 16; 32; Quinella: 64; Tanala: 790. Fav: Psychedelic (5).
8. P. Shanker Memorial Plate 1,200m: (14-8-10) Brave Edge (Prakash) 1; Sassy 2; Empress Of India 3.
Won by: 1/2; 2; (1-15.5). Tote: Win Rs 44; Place: 23; 65; 50; Quinella: 676; Tanala: 10,901. Fav: Ratn (2).
Jackpot: Rs 11,759; (C) Rs 1,470.
Treble: (i) Rs 626; (ii) Rs 1,358.
The Razeen-Enfin Seule daughter could have beaten her owner-mate Ashbury by a bigger margin than two and half-a-length had she been pressed for a punishing effort.
Ashbury was at the helm right after the gates opened. The Gold Discovery-Rose Of Sharon colt cut a decent pace with Cristopher Alford on the odds-on favourite in hot pursuit. Magnifico and the rest followed the two at a safe distance. But the safe distance turned into a yawning gap as the race progressed.
Ashbury, assisted by the visiting jockey Ravinder Singh, maintained her lead in the stretch-run but Alvarada was held in tight grip. The inevitable happened in the last furlong when the hold on the favourite was loosened.
The Vijay-Cristopher-Khaitan trio struck again in the 1,400m Gurkirpal Cup. This time it was Aloritz’s turn to earn applause from the sporting Mahasaptmi-day crowd as odds offered on the Razeen-Allesca three-year-old were no different compared to Alvarada’s. The three-year-old colt was ridden in a check till the home turn and zoomed passed the pacemaker Amarante 300m from home.
The Tokaido Express Cup was again a one-horse race for the Bharath-trained Starry Flag. Rabani, partnering the five-year-old even-money favourite, allowed Mystic Hill to dictate terms till the top of the straight from where he took over to go away from the field. Treasurer, the six-to-four second-favourite made his run nearing the distance post only to displace Mystic Hill from the second slot.
The other favourite to deliver on the day was Crest Star in the opener, the 2,000m Prawn Curry Handicap. Hailing from the yard of trainer Arun Goenka, the seven-year-old posted a decisive half-length victory over Ballard Lady. The verdict may flatter the later but in truth Yasin had eased up the winner nearly 100m from home.
Outsiders too had their share in the six-event card. The first to knock the favourite down was Scarlet Raider in the Almanac Cup over 1,200m. Ridden by Rutherford Alford and trained father, Richard, the young lad is using his riding allowance of five-kg to good affect.
Apprentices, normally, go about winning their races from start-to-finish. But Rutherford is beginning to learn the tactics early in his career, thanks to the required coaching from his father who himself was a great horseman. Rutherford had the Foyer-Grain Defolie daughter dropped out of contention till the home turn and brought her into the fray 300m from home.
Ardon in the Aureole Time Handicap was the biggest disappointment. In fact, the Richard-trainee never gave the impression of being in the thick of things. Fourth till 800m, the Tecorno-Andromeda daughter slid backwards as the race progressed. She just about managed to finish fourth. May be she is over-raced. The rest between now and the winter season may do her good. She is cut out for higher class.