Deep ready for opener�s mantle
India likely to cut pace, put stress on spin
Cash carrot for Bengal squad

Port Elizabeth, Nov. 14: 
Deep Dasgupta had just returned to his room at the Holiday Inn last evening, after the day�s full-fledged workout, when coach John Wright invited him to his room. What transpired wasn.t the usual coachplayer exchange of notes.

One learns Wright asked the one-Test old Deep whether he will be .comfortable. opening the innings (with roommate Shiv Sundar Das) in the second Test, at St George�s Park. The coach, of course, quickly added Deep didn.t have to give an immediate reply.

Deep, though, was quick to answer he was game. That he would willingly accept the challenge of taking on one of the more feared attacks on the circuit. Not that Deep was looking for assurances, but Wright is understood to have said .possible failure. wouldn.t be held against him. Also, that as coach, he would �stand up. for him.

Actually, more than the runs Deep may score, his prompt response must have already earned him high marks in the coach�s book: For Wright, attitude counts the most. In any case, it�s a great opportunity for Deep. Unless there�s an 11th-hour rethink, he will launch the Indian innings with Shiv Sundar.

Less than a fortnight ago,Deep looked destined to be a reserve (or, passenger, to put it uncharitably) during this three-Test series. Then, Samir Dighe pulled a back muscle shortly before the toss in Bloemfontein and,well, the rest is history.

Come Friday and 24-year-old Deep will add his name to India�s long list of makeshift openers . significantly, he isn.t the first wicketkeeper assigned a crucial double role.This additional responsibility wouldn.t have come his way had either Rahul Dravid or V.V�s. Laxman consented to open. Dravid, in fact, did the job in Test No.1.

Essentially, however, the vice-captain remains a middle-order gem. .

Frankly, I wasn.t surprised by what the coach had to say... After all, I somehow knew Rahulbhai was in a makeshift role (in Bloemfontein)... As I see it, once you make the XIV or XVI, you must be prepared for responsibility which can take any form. It�s my duty, then, to be ready,. Deep told The Telegraph this morning.

Speaking informally at the team hotel, he added: .The past six-seven months have been incredible... From the time I made the pre-season probables. list in May... I suppose, yes, it�s all destiny�s doing. Even when I first made it (tri-series squad), I was firm in declaring I would accept whatever fate had in store....

Incidentally, the .high. of Deep�s Test debut had been preceded by the .low. of being dropped for the last two tri-series games (including the final). But, that is history. Of course, it shouldn.t surprise if, on Friday, Deep spends more time at his regular morning puja. .I.m God-fearing... Ganesh, Hanuman... I worship them all. Also, the Shirdi Sai Baba,. he revealed.

Deep, for his part, confirmed he opened for Bengal only in his debut season, 1998-99 (knockout stage). What awaits him, therefore, is all the more challenging. .I.m not going to keep thinking about the task... That may complicate matters... I did face the second new ball, on the first evening and second morning of Test No.1... The one difference now could be that I may face the new ball on the very first morning..

He acknowledged the South African attack had to be closely watched. .It has variety: Shaun Pollock is deceptive and can keep landing the ball on one spot the whole day. Then, Mornantau Hayward is quick, while Jacques Kallis swings the ball... As for Makhaya Ntini, he has the pace and swing... I.m ready, though..

Among openers of the present generation, Deep admires recently-retired Mike Atherton the most. .His temperament was extraordinary and he would be content collecting ones and twos... Indeed, Atherton never gave his wicket cheap,. he remarked.

Deep, too, intends putting a high price tag on his.


Port Elizabeth, Nov.14: 
The St George�s Park wicket, which hosts the second Test from Friday, does have much grass but the Indian thinktank appears set to field only two quicks: Jawagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar. India are one-down in the three-match series.

According to The Telegraph�s sources, both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will (as of late this evening) figure in the XI and, if required, captain Sourav Ganguly will do the third seamer�s job.

However, if three specialist new-ball bowlers are to be fielded, there will then be space for one spinner . Harbhajan. In that eventuality, Ashish Nehra will keep his place, with Kumble joining Zaheer Khan in the dressing room. Otherwise, the two left-arm quicks will be making way for Agarkar and Harbhajan.

Omitting seasoned pro Kumble, though, won.t be an easy decision. Significantly, assuming both Kumble and Harbhajan do take the field, they will be seen together in a Test after all of two years. The last such instance being the Ahmedabad game, against New Zealand, in November 1999.

While the bowling combination, then, is more or less settled, the debate over who will open with Shiv Sundar Das is over completely. The task, unofficially, has been assigned to wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta. Of course, Sourav himself volunteered to open, last evening, but that won.t now be necessary.

Meanwhile, with the sun handsomely upstaging the early morning mist, the Indians had a comprehensive workout today. In fact, they shuttled between St George�s Park Field No.2 and the Graeme Pollock Field at Grey High School, some 3 km away. Both the legendary Graeme and elder brother Peter are distinguished alumni.

As coach John Wright favours simulating match conditions, the batsmen took turns at batting in pairs (at Grey HS) and the bowlers followed much the same thing. Those batsmen who wished to have an .extra. hit, went over to Field No.2. The bowling machine there was put to good use.

At Grey HS, the Indians had the help of the school team and there would be a big cheer (from hundreds of kids who had parked themselves beyond the rope) each time the strapping Siyab ulela Nkosana beat an Indian or got a .wicket. Nkosana is clearly a star within the confines of one of South Africa�s premier institutions, and has been nicknamed .(Curtley) Ambrose..

The Indians. workout ended early after noon, leaving everybody enough time to .pre pare. for the team dinner (to mark Diwali) scheduled at a high-profile Chinese restaurant Incidentally, very religious that manager Dr M.K. Bhargava is, he found time to visit a tem ple around 12 kms from Port Elizabeth.

While the Indians have been here from Monday evening, the South Africans arrived this morning. Their late afternoon workout though, was affected by light rain.


Calcutta, Nov. 14: 
The state government has announced a package of incentives for Bengal players on winning a medal in the forthcoming National Games.

Sports minister Subhas Chakraborty today met the contingent, now training at SAI complex and made the announcement.

According to Chakraborty, a gold medallist will get Rs 10,000 while Rs 5,000 and Rs 2,000 will be awarded to those winning silver and bronze, respectively.


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