The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Doubt over Sourav, Harbhajan
- Akash Chopra 'restored' to opening slot

Nagpur: As if being presented an Australian-type wicket for a Test which must be won (to achieve an immediate goal) wasn't bad enough, the Indians have been rocked by major fitness worries.

For one, there's no certainty Sourav Ganguly will figure in the XI. And, late on Monday, one learnt there's also a question mark over Harbhajan Singh.

The third Test is hours away.

While the captain's right groin has begun to play up, the key offie is down with viral. Mohammed Kaif stands to gain if Sourav isn't fit; Murali Kartik is going to be included if Harbhajan is too weak.

Being 0-1 down, the Indians' worst nightmares seem to be coming true.

Till the other day, the focus was on Sachin Tendulkar's fitness. Yet, his availability ' after missing over two months of international cricket ' has been upstaged by doubts over Sourav and Harbhajan.

The Australians, buoyed by the firm and greenish wicket at the VCA Stadium, don't have such concerns. In fact, their problem is one of riches, specifically trying to accommodate Brett Lee.

Lee is in the XII for the first time in this TVS-sponsored series, but it's to be seen whether the thinktank dumps Michael Kasprowicz.

A well-placed source of The Telegraph explained: 'Look, Kasprowicz has been doing the job expected of him in Indian conditions. However, the surface here is anything but typically Indian and, so, Lee has nudged into the frame...'

Apparently, stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist has even let it be known that Lee's presence in the XII isn't exactly for 'decorative purposes.' The tearaway should take much heart from that.

To return to the wicket, belatedly, the groundstaff did busy themselves (on Monday morning) trying to lessen the greenish look but it wasn't anything more than a token exercise.

While Gilchrist went to the extent of describing it as 'one in Australia,' Sourav confirmed having formally requested the curator (Kishore Pradhan) to remove the 'green cover.'

The curator, on the payrolls of the Vidarbha Cricket Association (which sits in the opposition within the Board), chose not to oblige. It has left the Indians fuming with many convinced politics led to this lack of cooperation.

Bottomline, of course, is tht the Indians have to make do with whatever has been offered. Perhaps, Virender Sehwag's attitude ' 'main pitch kabhi nahin dekhta,' he insisted in an exclusive chat ' has to rub off on the rest.

Akash Chopra, by the way, has been 'restored' as Sehwag's opening partner. The team management and the selectors have gone back to the specialist after seeing the surface. Chopra being in contention was reported in these columns on Monday.

Out of the XI is Yuvraj Singh and, if Sourav plays, the former will be joined by Kaif (despite 64 in the last Test). As expected, Ajit Agarkar is going to fill the slot left vacant by an injured Irfan Pathan.

The move to bring back Chopra, one understands, was initiated by consultant Sunil Gavaskar and coach John Wright. That shouldn't surprise ' both have been openers.

Whatever the Indians' worries, though, Gilchrist isn't taking his lead for granted. 'Ten days remain in this series and, going by what happened in our first innings in Chennai, we know how quickly everything can change,' he pointed out pretty candidly.

Gilchrist, by the way, was in Singapore during the short break after the second Test. Ditto for coach John Buchanan ('I've come back with batteries charged'), Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke.

For now, it's back trying to author a 'little piece of history,' to take a quote out of Gilchrist's series-eve observations. To prevent that, the Indians have to be more intense than they were for much of the last Test.

The toss, mind you, will be keenly watched in Glenn McGrath's 100th Test.


India: Akash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly/Mohammed Kaif, V.V.S.Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh/Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan.

Australia: Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Simon Katich, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne, Michael Kasprowicz/Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath.

Umpires: David Shepherd, Aleem Dar; K.Hariharan (TV).

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