Infection-hit Harbhajan doubtful starter
Just technique won�t do in SA: Sourav
Palit, Guha rescue Bengal
Dipankar confirmed as Bengal skipper
700 for national sub-jr volleyball
Paes, Bhupathi in quarters
Arjun leads at halfway stage
Calcutta Racing /�Chieftan� lifts Day I main event
Bangalore Racing/Stakes high, season starts today

Bloemfontein, Nov.2: 
If the ICC�s rankings alone were to count, the South Africans wouldn�t be too bothered about India. After all, they are at No.2, while India is just ahead of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But, then, there is more to Test cricket than standings.

Indeed, it�s a measure of the South Africans� respect for this Sourav Ganguly-led team that, earlier this week, coach Graham Ford strongly felt the first of three Tests ought to have been at Kingsmead (Durban) and not the Goodyear Park here. Kingsmead has much juice, whereas the Park has traditionally been batsman-friendly.

The �new� wicket prepared for the Test beginning tomorrow, though, seems different from what is generally on offer. It�s far from lush green, but does have some grass. Because it is quite firm, the bounce should delight quicks and (initially) push batsmen on the backfoot.

The latest India versus South Africa series, then, should have a vibrant start. Actually, it�s been 20 months since the two played each other and, well, much has happened since that Bangalore game.

Despite being hardest hit by the talking point during this period�the match-fixing scandal�South Africa have continued to grow in stature. It�s a fantastic achievement. India, too, have had problems and while a No.8 ranking is hardly inspiring, this team has the potential to surprise the many pundits.

Of course, the Indians cut a sorry figure on both previous trips (1992-93 and 1996-97), when only individual performances made headlines. But, as South African captain Shaun Pollock acknowledged this morning, the Indian batting �has a settled look� and there are �enough bowling options�.

By the afternoon, however, the Indian challenge received a setback with Harbhajan Singh being put on the doubtful-list. According to Sourav, the off-spinner has an �infection in the groin region� and may not play. Harbhajan himself is �confident� of being able to take the field, but it�s more likely Virender Sehwag will make his debut.

For his part, Sourav has left it to Harbhajan�who, at the moment, is in discomfort�to confirm availability by the morning. Apparently, the �infection� surfaced two days ago, but became worse this afternoon itself.

It does, therefore, seem that Anil Kumble (who will be playing his first Test in 20 months), won�t have Harbhajan at the other end. Clearly, the pressure on South Africa will then be that much less.

While Sehwag won�t be an adequate replacement for Harbhajan the spinner, his inclusion will boost the batting, more so as it�s confirmed Rahul Dravid will open with Shiv Sundar Das. That Dravid was likely to do so was reported by The Telegraph today.

As Dravid has already opened in three Tests (all against South Africa), Sourav didn�t have to go out of his way to �persuade� his vice-captain to again do so. In any case, the team�s interest comes foremost and Dravid is the quintessential team man.

If the Harbhajan-development wasn�t bad enough, Ashish Nehra slipped at nets, a repeat of the mishap in Zimbabwe. While it�s unlikely Nehra will join Harbhajan on the doubtful-list, physio Andrew Leipus announced his fitness would be �reviewed� before the toss.

Nehra (unless declared unfit), Jawagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan will be the three quicks in the XI. It�s worth noting that Zaheer and Nehra are coming off injuries. Should Nehra be ruled out, his place will go to Venkatesh Prasad.

Even if Harbhajan does make the XI, and adds bite to the attack, just how competitive India are will be determined by the totals put on board. Sourav himself is in no doubt his team�s batting will make the biggest difference. On paper, at least, the Indians don�t only have to depend on Sachin Tendulkar, who returns after missing the three Tests in Sri Lanka.

And, yes, much is expected from V.V.S.Laxman (another comeback man), who hasn�t quite come close to the form struck versus Australia. He may not ever again author an epic similar to the 281 at the Eden, but he shouldn�t be getting out in �soft� manner. This series, perhaps, will see the wristy dasher return among the runs in a big way.

With the South African selectors releasing quick Charl Langevelt for provincial cricket on Wednesday, the XI picked itself. Predictably, the emphasis is on pace. Mornantau Hayward, back in the Test team after over a year, is sure to go flat out. So, too, Makhaya Ntini. Pollock, as usual, will be giving nothing away even if he doesn�t have Hayward or Ntini�s pace.

[Thus far, by the way, Hayward is best remembered for injuring Mohammed Azharuddin in South Africa�s tour-opener (Board President�s XI) at the Brabourne Stadium, last year, thereby ensuring his Test appearances stopped at 99. But for that injury, Azhar would have played both Tests in that series and not just the one in Bangalore.]

Like Sourav, Pollock didn�t appear too keyed-up. In fact, when asked whether he was looking to settle �scores� with his opposite number (who tore into him during the recent tri-series), Pollock quipped: �Oh, no... It was settled in the Durban final, when I got Sourav cheaply!�

South Africa�s USP is depth in batting �No.8 Boje has a highest score of 85 � but the top gun remains veteran Gary Kirsten. Getting him early has to be India�s numero uno priority. Next must be sending Jacques Kallis back quickly.

Incidentally, speaking exclusively, Pollock dissociated himself from Ford�s views on Bloemfontein being the series-launch venue. �As Durban is my hometown, I would have loved playing at Kingsmead. Only, we must be prepared to win at all venues and, just as important, all conditions.�

Yesterday, Sourav didn�t moan at the presence of grass on the Nico Pretorius-prepared wicket. Today, Pollock made the point his team must have the confidence to win on all surfaces. Both are captains with a difference.

Hopefully, this series will also unfold differently from the usual India-South Africa script in South Africa.


INDIA: Shiv Sundar Das, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S.Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly (captain), Samir Dighe, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh/Virender Sehwag, Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra/Venkatesh Prasad.

SOUTH AFRICA: Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippennar, Neil McKenzie, Lance Klusener, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock (captain), Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini and Mornantau Hayward.

Umpires: Dave Orchard, Asoka de Silva.

Match Referee: Mike Denness.

Hours of play (IST): 2.00-4.00 pm; 4.40-6.40 pm; 7.00-9.00 pm.


Bloemfontein, Nov. 2: 
With the Indian team scheduled to have an afternoon workout, captain Sourav Ganguly had some time to himself this morning.

He reassured an �apprehensive� wife Dona, who is expecting the couple�s first baby any day now in Calcutta. That done, the stickers on his new (lighter) bat were adjusted. And, then, the captain sought statistics on how key bowlers have fared in the more important series� of late.

Sourav, of course, also spoke to The Telegraph for half-an-hour at the team hotel (Holiday Inn, Garden Court). Relaxed to the extent he can be, Sourav made the point about the batsmen having to be �courageous.�

Following are excerpts

Q With just hours to go before the start of a truly high-profile Test series, what are your thoughts?

A Firstly, that this promises to be the toughest series during my 20 months as captain. Even tougher than having taken on Australia earlier this year. Secondly, that the South Africans will come hard at us. And, finally, that we will have to play out of our skin to beat them. Having said all that, I would like to add the South Africans aren�t unbeatable.

Q But for Sadagopan Ramesh, you will be leading a full-strength side. This must surely lift your own confidence...

A Absolutely. It�s a captain�s nightmare when top players get injured; it�s a pleasure captaining the full team... Yes, I�m very happy and the side as a whole will draw inspiration from the return of the key performers.

[By the afternoon, however, there was a big doubt over Harbhajan Singh�s availability and even Ashish Nehra had slipped at nets.]

Q How much of a factor will South Africa�s strong showing in the tri-series be?

A Well, they will be drawing confidence from their success (two out of three times in the league stage and, then, in the final). In any case, South Africa are a very good team, more so at home where conditions suit them well.

Q So, what will India�s best bet be?

A To bat exceedingly well. The number of runs we score, specially in the first innings, will largely determine how competitive we are. Technique alone won�t help batsmen in these parts. Indeed, they will have to be courageous. It does take guts to tackle a clutch of quicks head-on. Incidentally, except that one league match against Kenya and the final, I think we batted well in the tri-series.

Q It seemed you were personally keen to score a point over the South African quicks...

A (Grins) I played my shots. I�ve done it in the past; did so during the tri-series as well. I�m a shot-maker, not a plodder. Then, the good thing is you can trust the bounce in South Africa. It isn�t dual-paced.

Q Did you consciously go about collecting runs on the on-side?

A You mean, whether I was out to prove a point? Fact is I�ve never ever sought to make a point. At this level, you set standards and seek to maintain that. But, yes, the runs in the tri-series (close to 400) have raised my confidence-level.

Q You must have interacted with your top backer, Geoffrey Boycott?

A A few times... He knows my game and, always, has a word or two by way of advice. He keeps sharing his experience and that, in itself, is a learning process. Somebody with over 8,000 Test runs does know his cricket.

Q Have the wickets been as expected?

A Sure. They�ve been quick and have had the anticipated bounce.

Q Obviously, the pull will have to be executed more often...

A The pull and the cut. It will be great if the batsmen can get both going. Otherwise, proficiency in at least one is a must. After all, being positive will be a key element throughout this series. Clearly, one will have to back one�s ability.

Q This is your second trip to South Africa. With the benefit of your 1996-97 experience, what adjustments have you made?

A It�s all been about adjusting to the wickets. Specifically, that�s responding to a particular situation. If I may add, at the international level, it�s how players react to a situation that makes much of the difference. Talent is fine, what counts is responding to the conditions which confront you. The test, really, is there.

Q It�s fashionable to talk of the psychological advantage and such like. What are your views?

A The individual�s own preparation matters most. No matter what advantage one could have gained, what is past is history. It�s a fresh start each time a batsman takes guard and the bowler gets to the top of his run-up for the first time... Additionally, irrespective of what the coach and captain may suggest, it�s the individual who must himself perform.

Q How do you compare this South African side with the one in 1996-97 and the 1999-2000 one?

A Pretty much the same... The nucleus hasn�t really changed.

Q Are you relieved Allan Donald is injured?

A He is a class-act, I agree, but he isn�t as quick as he was not too long ago. Even if he won�t be around, other quicks will be there.

Q Mornantau Hayward has been recalled to give India the express pace-treatment. How much of a threat is he?

A He hasn�t played Test cricket for over a year and, so, will himself be under pressure. Of course, he is expected to be quick.

Q You�ve spoken about the role our batsmen have to play. What have you been telling the bowlers?

A Simple: Be disciplined. Just a few months ago, in Kandy, all of us saw the rich dividends which a disciplined line and length fetches. We�ve got to consistently bowl on one side of the wicket. I�m hopeful.

Q There�s this feeling in some quarters that Jawagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad are, perhaps, over the hill. Do you agree?

A Not at all.

Q Each South African player has a clear responsibility, with all 11 contributing to the team effort...

A (Interrupting) But it�s the same with us... Every player has a role. The issue is whether what has been assigned will be achieved. No coach or captain can do somebody else�s job.

Q The final question: Are you pleased Cammie Smith won�t be breathing down your neck?

A (Laughs) Cammie Smith... Well...


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
Sudip Palit and Samrat Guha�s face-saving 135-run stand for the eighth wicket dug Bengal out of a deep hole on Day II of their Cooch Behar Trophy encounter against Bihar at Eden Gardens.

Bengal resumed this morning on an unsteady 64 for five in pursuit of Bihar�s first-innings tally of 142 and slumped to a precarious 84 for seven in next to no time. The two bowlers came together and wielded their bat effectively to push Bihar on the backfoot.

When Sudip departed for a well-made 86 (with 10 fours), Bengal were breathing much freer at 219. Some lusty hitting by Samrat (69 not out with eight fours and a six) ensured that the hosts stretched their innings to 258 for a healthy lead of 116.

By stumps today, Bihar had erased 65 runs off that deficit at the cost of two wickets both of which were claimed by Soujan Biswas. Opener Ravish Kumar is still going strong on 40.

BRIEF SCORES: Bihar 142 and 65/2 (R. Kumar batting 40; S. Biswas 2/15). Bengal 258 (S. Palit 86, S. Guha 69 not out; Sujit Roy 5/127, K.I. Rao 4/66). Match to continue.


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
Dipankar Biswas will lead arguably the most deglamourised Bengal squad to the Santosh Trophy now underway in Mumbai. The Bhratri Sangha striker was chosen unanimously as captain, being the only man with Santosh Trophy and big-club experience.

The 20-member squad, picked from 29 probables after a practice session at the Mohammedan Sporting ground this morning supervised by coaches Shabbir Ali and Prasanta Banerjee has seven players from Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), six from Bhratri Sangha, three from FCI, two from Mohammedan Sporting and one each from BNR and West Bengal Police.

The composition of the squad, selected purely on the basis of hierarchy, holds no surprises. With the IFA being literally forced to do away with �Big Three� players, the fourth and fifth-best teams in the Super Division (Bhratri and CPT) have contributed 65 per cent of the squad members.

�Under the circumstances, we couldn�t have got a better team,� said Prasanta. Shabbir, the senior pro, was in total agreement.

The selection process did have its share of drama, though. Barring two IFA nominees, just one out of six senior state selectors were present at the meeting. That lone representative happened to be Pronob Ganguly, while those absent were Prasun Banerjee, Aloke Mukherjee, Krishanu Dey, Dulal Bhattacharya and Tapas Chakraborty.

Ex-India captain Prasun, in fact, quit the committee citing IFA�s poor handling of the Santosh Trophy issue and alleging that the parent body was ruining football in the state.

Away from the controversy, the captain was more excited about the godsend opportunity than his new-found status. �The captaincy is a big honour, but I am more pleased that we have been given this chance to show our mettle,� Dipankar said. �It�s upto us now to utilise this great opportunity.�

For Dipankar, who has played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, this will be his fourth Santosh Trophy. In the opportunities he got as a substitute in the 1996, 97 and 98 editions, all of which Bengal won, Dipankar scored five goals.

Bengal fly to Mumbai Monday and play their first match Wednesday.

THE SQUAD � Goalkeepers: Imran Khan, Abhijit Mondal, Sandip Guha.

Defenders: Babun Kar, Momocha Singh, Srimanta Das, Nilanjan Guha, Arun Malhotra, Robi Karmakar.

Midfielders: Brojo Gopal Jana, Sujay Datta, Madhusudan Majumdar, Shib Sankar Chowdhury, Mohammad Rafique, Dipankar Biswas, Saikat Mondal.

Forwards: Sandip Ghosh, Subhasish Chakraborty, Barun Dana, Pradip Indu.

Stand-by: Arup Sarkar, Jayanta Roy, Inshan Ali, Arindam Sarkar.

Coaches: Shabbir Ali, Prasanta Banerjee.


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
Bardhaman will host the 24th national sub-junior volleyball championships from Tuesday. A total of 700 players from 26 boys� and 21 girls� teams will vie for glory in the five-day meet, it was announced today.

The main venue of this big-budget meet will be the Aurobindo Stadium. Two local clubs will also host some preliminary action to cope with the heavy volume of matches. Both the boys and girls events will be played on a league-cum-knockout basis.

Bengal, seven-time champions in the girls� event, are in group D with Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, Uttaranchal and Chhatisgarh. In their ranks is Sharmila Roy, a talented deaf and dumb player.

The Bengal boys, who have never gone beyond the semi-finals, have been clubbed with holders Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Mizoram and Jammu & Kashmir.


BOYS: Anirban Saha (captain), Sumit Ghosh, Buddhadeb Das, Soumen Mukherjee, Rabindranath Chatterjee, Raju Kangsabanik, Susanta Sadhukhan, Abir Mitra, Sandip Das, Sayan Basak, Manik Manna, Kailash Nulia.

Coach: Kartick Mukherjee.

GIRLS: Rupa Sur (captain), Chaitali Dey, Piyali Roy, Sampa Majumdar, Purnima Sarkar, Soumita Talukdar, Sharmila Roy, Nanda Nag, Arpita Mukherjee, Kanika Manna, Priya Biswas, Kaberi Kolay.

Coach: Satyabrata Ghosh.

National Games officials

Debashish Banerjee will be chef-de-mission of the Bengal contingent for the National Games to be held in Punjab from November 19-December 1.

Completing the officials� line-up will be Tapan Bakshi, Suravi Mitra (deputy chef-de-mission) and Dilip Pal (secretary-cum-treasurer).


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi advanced to the quarter finals of the Paris Masters Series event with a straight-set win last evening.

According to information received here, the fifth-seeds, who received a first-round bye, saw off David Adams (South Africa) and Lucas Arnold (Argentina) 6-4, 7-5.

This being the year�s last doubles event, the Indian Express would be keen to sign off on a high. Last week, they fell one match short of their 21st title in Basel.


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
Arjun Singh opened a three-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Rs 30 lakh Honda-Siel PGA Championship at the par-72 Delhi Golf Club course today.

Arjun took his tally to an 11-under 133, according to information received here. Mukesh Kumar shot two-under 70 to remain second with eight-under 136.

Uttam Singh Mundy moved up to third at six-under 138 and there was a three-way tie between Daniel Chopra, Rohtas Singh and Shiv Prakash for the fourth. Defending champion Jyoti Randhawa was in tied 11th place at two-under 142.


Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
The southern challen-ger Bold Chieftan was hard-pressed to beat Anolini, today, in the Delhi Race Club Cup, the main event in the day one card of the cold weather season. Deliberately kept underdone by Daniel David in view of his superior class, the wellbred four-year-old by Placerville out of Shamirana was kept in check behind stablemate Beneficent till the final turn before Nic Connorton sent the 45-100 hot-property into a selender lead that just about helped his cause.

The Friday race-crowd was, however, not so lucky in the sporting event, the Beauregard Cup, that witnessed the downfall of Alegria, the 3-10 hottest order in the six-event frame. The Serious Spender-Arctic Theme filly flattered to deceive in the lead when apprentice Faiz Ali Khan � not Fateh Ali as was previous mentioned in the columns � brought the John Stephens-trained On The Bit with superior acceleration to take a comfortable measure of the Vijay Singh trained three-year-old.


1. Cally Handicap 1,100m: (2-1-5-4) Lady Shirley (Shanker) 1; Tsaynen Blue (Gowli) 2; Rich Dominion (Kujur) 3; Victoria Rose (Rabani) 4. Won by: 3/4; 1-3/4; 1-1/4; (1-9.2). Tote: Win Rs 21; Place: 11; 12; 15; Quinella: 24; Tanala: 96. Fav: Lady Shirley (2). Winner trained by Asfand.

2. Sea Spray Handicap 1,200m: (6-4-2-3) Calabash (C. Alford) 1; Grecian Prince (Yasin) 2; Glass Slipper (P. Alford) 3; Touch of Elegance (E. Smith) 4. Won by: 3/4; Nk; 5-1/4; (1-17.4). Tote: Win Rs 41; Place: 15; 17; 18; Quinella: 70; Tanala: 247. Fav: Pneumatic Power (5). Winner trained by Mujeeb R.

3. Beauregard Cup 1,200m: (3-4-1-6) On The Bit ( F. Khan) 1; Alegria (C. Alford) 2; Peace Envoy (Asghar) 3; Bay Dragon (Yasin) 4. Won by: 2-1/4; 2-1/4; Nk; (1-15.5). Tote: Win Rs 61; Place: 17; 11; Quinella: 18; Tanala: 287. Fav: Alegria (4). Winner trained by J. Stephens.

4. Gold Span Handicap 1,100m: (4-6-7-2) Super Smile (Rabani) 1; Common Spirit (Kujur) 2; Crest Star (Yasin) 3; Rheinheart (Shanker) 4. Not run: Simply Dashing (3). Won by: 6-1/4; 1-1/4; 3/4; (1-8.8). Tote: Win Rs 35; Place: 22; 16; Quinella: 43; Tanala: 119. Fav: Common Spirit (6). Winner trained by Bharath S.

5. Delhi Race Club Cup 1,400m: (1-2-5-3) Bold Chieftan (Connorton) 1; Anolini (C. Alford) 2; Beneficent (Yasin) 3; Arendal (Amil) 4. Won by: 1-1/4; 7; 3/4; (1-28.3). Tote: Win Rs 14; Place: 11; 13; Quinella: 15; Tanala: 123. Fav: Bold Chieftan (1). Winner trained by Daniel D.

6. Leonidas Handicap 1,400m: (7-3-1-8) Regency Times (Connorton) 1; Aherlow (C. Alford) 2; Raaz (E. Smith) 3; Soviet Dance (R. Ahmed) 4. Won by: 1-1/4; 2-3/4; 2; (1-30.4). Tote: Win Rs 16; Place: 12; 14; 16; Quinella: 21; Tanala: 68. Fav: Regency Times (7). Winner trained by Daniel D.

Jackpot: Rs 2,907; (C) Rs 576.

Treble: (i) Rs 509; (ii) Rs 100.

Bangalore, Nov. 2: 
Stakes are going to be high during the 41-day winter season beginning tomorrow. There will be about 900 horses � including 265 two-year-olds in the care of 33 �A� licenced and 4 �B� category schoolers vying for the stakes to the tune of Rs 9 crores � an increase of approximately 30 percent paid out during the last winter season. Seventyfive jockeys will don the colours. The feature of the season�s meet is the Invitation Cup weekend on March 2 and March 3. Racing in the first fortnight of the season will be held on Saturdays and Sundays and rest of the meets on Fridays and Saturdays. Also a 15 day Mysore winter meet will be held on Mondays. The Arjun Mangalorkar-ward Yewall is fancied to win tomorrow�s main event, the 1,200m Abbey Falls Cup.


2 pm: Thrill of Success 1. Lyric Fantasy 2. Lake Baikal 3.
2.30 pm: Ashleen 1. Aesthete 2. South Cove 3.
3 pm: Yewall 1. Alylady 2. Symphony of Fire 3.
3.30 pm: Renzino 1. National Star 2. Millennium Flame 3.
4 pm: Al Habib 1. Star Festival 2. Flash First 3.
4.30 pm: Furia Rossa 1. Step In Time 2. Crown Witness 3.
5 pm: Autobahn 1. Flying Tribute 2. Bin Tin Tin 3.

Day�s Best: Ashleen

Double: Yewall & Al Habib

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