The mercury has dipped, yes, but the contest promises to be real hot.
Not that a confirmation was needed, but Pollock did make the point he was looking to .close. the three-Test series here itself. Already one-up, the pressure is much less on South Africa. On the flipside, all the running has to be done by Sourav Ganguly’sIndians.
The inspiration must, of course, come from within. After all, the only previous India-South Africa Test at St George’sPark, back in December 1992, saw the hosts carve a huge nine-wicket win with fiery Allan Donald doing maximum damage: 12 for 139, including seven for 84 in the second innings. An injured Kapil Dev did crack a brilliant 129, but only delayed the inevitable.
India lost in four days.
To talk of the present, foul weather for much of the morning affected the teams. pre-match preparations. South Africa had to be content with indoor nets where the Eastern Province Academy is housed. The Indians, who came later, managed a workout on Field No.2.
The South Africans have no problems with their XI . the Bloemfontein Test-winning side is being retained . but the inclement weather has done its bit to keep alive the .debate. over India’sbowling combination.
Indeed,when the covers were taken off around noon, the wicket didn.t look drastically different from the adjoining area. Not only did it have that green look, but was pretty damp, thanks to .sweating.. The temptation for Sourav to field three quicks will be high. Clearly, the morrow could see him make the toughest decision of his captaincy.
Indian coach John Wright, for one, described it as an .English. wicket. .It’sgoing to do something,. he added.
In former South African captain Kepler Wessels. opinion, the Indians must have a clear strategy. Talking to The Telegraph, he said: .If India win the toss and wish to bat first, two spinners makes good sense. But, if they will bowl, given the conditions, it should be three quicks and one spinner....
Should conditions (both in the air and on the turf) remain the same, it’slikely Anil Kumble will be excluded and one spinner, Harbhajan Singh, fielded. The quicks will be Jawagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra. If Kumble is to be accommodated, Nehra must sit out.
Agarkar, incidentally, will be making a comeback after four Tests (three in Sri Lanka and the first in South Africa).
Whatever the combination, it’sthe Indian batting which will largely determine whether the series stays alive till Centurion. A first innings total of 379 in Test No.1 was, on the face of it, very competitive. But with indiscipline usurping centrestage in innings No.2, that 379 became irrelevant.
The basics, then, will have to be remembered. Actually, the Indian bowlers, too, need to be reminded about discipline. That one quality, it may be recalled, made the biggest difference in Kandy three months ago.There, too, India were one-down but drew level after a 24carat performance.
At the very least, then, Kandy must be repeated. Ideally, it has to be one notch higher as South Africa is a more formidable outfit than Sanath Jayasuriya’sSri Lankans. In fact, South African coach Graham Ford is bracing for an .all-guns-blazing. Indian approach.Obviously, Ford has recognised the Indians played below potential in Bloemfontein.
One reason was a makeshift opening combination . Shiv Sundar Das and vice-captain Rahul Dravid. Well, it’sgoing to be another makeshift twosome, only wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta (set to open, unless there is a lastminute change) has no reservations about the job. Really, it’san opportunity . challenging no doubt . for Deep to make a big impression.
The team management’sofficial position is that either the captain or Deep will partner Shiv Sundar. Wright admitted the situation had become .complicated,. but insisted .it’sunder control now..
For his part, Sourav pointed out he wouldn.t be making a .sacrifice. if he does open and exposes himself to the quicks,who have already made him a premier target. .It’sjust that somebody from the middle-order will be pushed up....
To go back to Wright, referring to Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman’sreluctance to open, he observed: .Fact is they aren.t comfortable and, in any case, it’sbest to have people in positions where they will be at ease. That helps the team..
For the record, Dravid has a best of 31 in the four Tests he has opened, while in 23 innings, Laxman has four fifties and a hundred. It’snot an awful success rate but, then, the stylish Hyderabadi has been clear about not wanting to open.
The South Africans, luckily, don.t have selection problems.Pollock himself was emphatic in stating the .winning combination. will be retained. The promising Jacques Rudolph, then, will have to wait and Boeta Dippenaar can heave a sigh of relief.
However, there was some concern last evening when local star Mornantau Hayward was sent to a doctor after .uneasiness.. Apparently, he had a bout of food poisoning. .Oh, he’smuch better. But, yes, I expect him to be hungry!. quipped Pollock, after the workout indoors.
Unlike most grounds, there is an appreciable wind-factor. If the westerly blows (over the Grandstand), batsmen make merry as the moisture quickly dries. An easterly (coming over the scoreboard) appreciably helps swing bowlers. .
Days No. 2 and 3 are the best for batting... Not the first day,. remarked former South African allrounder Dave Callaghan, who successfully battled cancer and runs a cricket equipment store within the St George’sPark confines.
Should Pollock win the toss, it’spretty certain he will insert India. That, then, will be the most demanding test for Sourav and Co. on this trip.
INDIA: Shiv Sundar Das, Deep Dasgupta, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S.Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath, Anil Kumble/Ashish Nehra.
SOUTH AFRICA: Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Neil McKenzie, Boeta Dippenaar, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini and Mornantau Hayward.
Umpires: Russell Tiffin and Ian Howell.
Srinath, 32, spoke to The Telegraph at the Holiday Inn last evening. He was candid and, at times, even emotional.
The following are excerpts
Q You’ve recently completed ten years of international cricket.What are your thoughts today?
A Well, cricket gave my life a new dimension... Changed me... Has made me the person I am. Of course, there have been lows but, overall, I have no complaints. In my own way, I.ve been ambitious and that, I think, is a positive attribute. If one is contended, he will also be complacent.
Q How exactly has cricket changed you?
A Changed in the sense I.ve learnt so much... Most important, learnt to shoulder more responsibility. Also, because of my cricket-related experiences, I.ve got to know how people respond (one-to-one) when the going is good and, equally, when it isn’t.
QLooking back,are you satisfied or...
A (Interrupting) Bottomline is performance... But, yes, there were occasions when I couldn.t convert potential into performance... Perhaps,my potential wasn.t fully tapped... It’spossible things would have been different had I, from the beginning itself, been able to put my thought process into the right lane. You could say I.m a bit of a slow learner.
Q When, in your opinion, did you become a mature quick?
A It took some time... I didn.t get many opportunities in Tests, in the first three years, and that did make a difference.I only regularly made it to the Test XI from the 1994-95 season and it took time to adjust to the demands of Test cricket.But, then, it’s Test cricket that teaches you the most and, in time, I learnt.
Q As Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were the first-choice new-ball bowlers in the initial years, was it frustrating waiting for the former to retire?
A Not frustrating, because outside India I get the chance to play...
QTo what would you attribute having survived ten years in the big league?
A A number of factors. For one, I accepted I would keep learning every year. That attitude helped. Then, the experience with Gloucestershire (1995) was immensely beneficial... That’swhere I learnt the importance of line and length as opposed to just being quick. In fact, I would advise every newball bowler to play one season of County cricket... Also, the drive within, that something remained to be achieved. I.ve been passionate about the game.
Q Given the cricket being played today, will a quick making his debut in the present times be around ten years from now?
A (Grins) He can, provided he doesn.t get injured in the first three years or so. And, once he has put in sixseven years, the establishment is bound to look after him and play him in the most important engagements. Actually, it’snice to know that contracts will soon be introduced. Security will definitely help.
Q Over the years, you.ve had a number of partners.Who have you been most comfortable with?
A Venky (Venkatesh Prasad). Though I had a ten-month lay-off in 1997, I think he was at his peak from 1996 to 1998... They say quicks hunt in pairs, the closest Indian equivalent would be Venky and myself.
Q Your bowling-shoulder injury came at the wrong time...
A It did, yes, and probably set me back by three years. At the same time, had I not undergone surgery (in Johannesburg),my career could already have been over.
QWas it easy taking the surgery-option?
A It wasn.t. More so because I didn.t know anybody who had undergone a similar operation.As it turned out, I did take the right decision. In any case, that’s what destiny had in store.
Q During that long lay-off, did you ever fear returning a less effective bowler?
A Certain thoughts did cross my mind, yes.
Q Were you tense on your return to the big league (Mohali Test, versus Sri Lanka)?
A Actually, no. That’sbecause I had already bowled a good number of overs in domestic cricket and, indeed, wasn.t short on confidence.
Q Given the chance to re-live the past decade, will you do anything differently?
A (Grins again) I just wish, today, I could have the body of a 23-year-old... If I can go back, though, I.ll look to consistently bowl a probing line just outside off from ball No. 1.
Q You qualified for the 200 wickets club in Bloemfontein. What do milestones hold for you?
A I was initially disappointed that the effort (five for 140 in the first innings), which took me to the club, eventually didn.t prove meaningful... Still, getting there is special... The figure is something to talk about and I hope other quicks will get some inspiration. They should believe that even they can get there. And, beyond.
Q Personally, which performances have given the most satisfaction?
A I.ll pick two: Six for 21 in the second innings against South Africa (Ahmedabad, 1996-97) and match figures of 13 for 132 at the Eden Gardens, versus Pakistan (1998-99).
QYou.ve bowled a lot with both the white and red balls. What difference have you found?
A The white ball is lighter and has plenty of glaze. Therefore, initially, it does swing a lot. However, as you can.t keep one side shiny, you can.t .return. with the white ball once it’sold. Because of the leather, it gets too soft... It’sdifferent with the conventional (red) ball.
Q The Nineties saw the emergence of some outstanding quicks... Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath... How do you rate them?
A Both have been exceptional, yet both had the advantage of learning the ropes in obviously advantageous conditions. Personally, I respect the achievers in the sub-continent more and have the highest regard for the Pakistanis, specially Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Even in conditions not tailormade, both have been very fast, sharp and have swung the ball to the extent they liked.
Q What’syour assessment of the .new. bunch of quicks in India?
A They are good, definitely, but must play without injuries for some length of time. If they don.t, they won.t learn. In order to learn and improve, one must keep bowling on and on. Also, I do feel wickets in India should change. The quicks must be given a fair chance.
Q There’sbeen criticism that you pick and choose one-day tournaments/series...
A Please, I don.t. It’sjust that, at times, your body needs a break... Nobody is bigger than the game and absolutely nobody should be given the luxury of picking and choosing. As a humble player, I have the highest respect for cricket.
QSo,what’sthe future you are looking at?
A Ever since the surgery, I.ve been taking it series-by-series. At the moment, then, I can.t say much else... Yes, I.ve always worked hard and believe in God and destiny, though.
QThe final question: Shouldn.t the body-language of our quicks be more aggressive?
A (Smiles) They need to bowl more and more.Moreover, conditions should be such they get a reasonable chance... Once this is so, everything will fall into place.
I know that Bengal have lost eight players to the national camp for the Asia Cup in China, but I am sure of making at least the semi-finals here,. she says. Bengal are in group I along with Assam (who they meet on November 21), Orissa (November 23) and Punjab (November 25). The other group comprises champions Manipur, Maharashtra, Bihar and Kerala. .
I am worried only about Punjab in my group (good physique and fighters),. said Anita, .Orissa and Assam I can handle.. She is a trifle upbeat about even a semi-final clash with Manipur that she might not be able to miss. .I will try to top my group, hoping Manipur does it, too, in theirs, but in case this does not happen, I can take strength from the fact that even though Bengal have lost eight players to the national camp, Manipur have lost about 12..
Anita, though, keeps in mind that Manipur have been and still are, the best in women’ssoccer in the country, and there is enough talent to supplement any loss through drafting into camps. .My strength is that my girls are fighters (she refused to name anybody in particular for special mention) and there is a good mix of youthful energy and experience. Added to that, surely, will be Anita’sown experience from her vast playing days and her ability to read situations as an advanced coach from the FA of England.
THE STATE WOMEN’S SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Ranjita Khan, Sujata Sinha. Defenders: Meenakshi Biswas, Tumpa Banerjee, Ruma Ghosh, Chandana Biswas, Dulali Ghosh, Tuli Guin. Medios: Sujata Nandy, Lata Ghosh, Shefali Chowdhury, Nashaba Alam, Soma Mukherjee. Forwards: Rinku Ghosh, Papia Ghosh, Shilpi Deb, Shanta Dhara, Madhumita Das. Technical director: Ajoy Lahiri. Coach: Anita Sarkar.
BRIEF SCORES: Sikkim 184 (Koushik Guha 38; Anirban Chatterjee 7/30, Soujan Biswas 2/38). Bengal 38/2.
SAI centre in Haldia
SAI (Eastern Centre) is going to set up an extension centre in Haldia as part of a sports complex, announced regional director Somen Chowdhury today.
Bhratri fine players
Bhratri Sangha slapped fines of Rs 50,000 and Rs 20,000 on Ifeany and Shanti Majumdar for improper behaviour during the Governor’sGold Cup in Sikkim. Abdul Khalique was fined Rs 30,000 for missing practice. Palash Karmakar was also penalised.
I.m in the middle of a series and I.m doing the job to the best of my ability... At this moment, I.m only looking at the second Test and the one after that... In any case, at times, one must also view things philosophically,. Wright remarked this afternoon.
As reported by The Telegraph last month,Wright will be on an .unofficial. extension till December 23,when the Test series against England ends. Thereafter, Board president Jagmohan Dalmiya will review his (and physio Andrew Leipus.) appointment.