| Sachin Tendulkar raises his arms as if to signal a six during practice at Kingsmead. (AFP)
Durban, Feb. 25: There’s an Esplanade all right, and even if a Marine Drive isn’t there, the Marine Parade is. It’s difficult then for Sourav Ganguly’s Team India not to feel at home in attractive Durban.
Yet, for all this familiarity, the Indians have an appalling record at Kingsmead where they face England in what promises to be a humdinger of a Pool A World Cup match tomorrow.
Predictably, the attention will be as much on the captains — Sourav and Nasser Hussain — as on those with no official position but having as much responsibility.
Wearing the No. 24 shirt, which brought him luck against Namibia, will surely be par for the course. Sourav, however, didn’t commit himself on whether he will do a NatWest final repeat and take off his shirt, if India gains all four points.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” was the Indian captain’s teasing answer when former England allrounder Derek Pringle, now a columnist, sought to probe him.
[Sourav revealed to The Telegraph that a “dear friend” in Calcutta suggested he try 24 instead of the officially listed 99.]
The morrow, though, won’t be about taking off any shirt. Rather, the team which keeps its shirt on should be comfortably placed in qualifying for the Super Six with a sweet 16 points in the bag.
India and England are on 12 apiece, with Hussain’s team flaunting a better net run rate, 2.08 vis-a-vis 1.19.
In Indian coach John Wright’s opinion, it’s now an excellent opportunity “to make a statement”. For Hussain, it’s time for his “lads” to raise their hands and declare “I’ll do it”.
Expectedly, Sourav and Hussain chose to look ahead cautiously. “At this moment, it’s 50-50... It should be as close as the recent games versus England,” is what Sourav said. Agreeing, Hussain added that India’s success in the NatWest plus the ICC Champions Trophy wasn’t of much relevance here.
Perhaps, Hussain has a point: The Indians have lost all three completed ODIs at Kingsmead, traditionally known to offer bounce and movement. The one remaining ODI was abandoned.
Despite overwhelming support — lawyers in New Delhi to an Indian couple settled in The Netherlands, hundreds have swarmed Durban to neutralise the frequent flier mile-logging Barmy Army — Team India can’t take anything for granted.
The build-up has seen both India and England affected by injuries. Michael Vaughan, recovering from a calf muscle problem, is expected to be fielded. As for Ashish Nehra, his recovery from an ankle sprain has (in Sourav’s view) been “good”.
Now about Hussain.
Asked whether he had decided to quit as captain after the World Cup, he replied: “I’ll review things after the event...” But were contenders already putting up their hands' “Sure, there are many... I’ll say ‘best of luck’ to whoever gets it.”
It’s not unusual for Hussain to have the last word. The million-rand question is whether he will also have the final say tomorrow night...