| Yuvraj Singh at nets in Margao on Sunday. (PTI)
Margao: Sun-kissed beaches, swaying palm trees and moon-light trance parties. If the exotic appeal of Goa along with India’s dismal track record at the Nehru Stadium came as a boon for the English players, the prevailing heat wave has dampened their spirits.
With temperatures hovering in the region of 40 degrees Celsius and energy-sapping humidity threatening to add to their misery, the visitors are not very upbeat going into the third match of the TVS Cup.
Taking no chances, the Indians opted for early morning workouts, and by the time the Englishmen arrived around 11 a.m., they were done with.
“Conditions will be tough for both the batsmen and bowlers,” said Team India captain Rahul Dravid. “It’s going to be a cauldron out there...” Paul Collingwood couldn’t hide his fears.
Extreme heat took its toll on not just the players. Physio John Gloster had to attend to a spectator who collapsed in the stands adjoining the newly-built players’ enclosure.
Despite the 2-0 lead and Suresh Raina’s match-winning form in Faridabad, India’s frailties at the top and middle-order remain a matter of concern. As coach Greg Chappell kept a close watch on the Virender Sehwags and Dravids, they seemed to struggle against the pace of Rudra Pratap Singh and Munaf Patel on the faster and bouncier of the two surfaces laid out during nets.
RP hit the Indian captain on the body on a couple of occasions and Sehwag’s flirtation with the slip cordon didn’t go unnoticed. Mohammed Kaif, with a hattrick of ducks, and Yuvraj Singh, too, could not give the coach much assurance.
The thinktank could promote Irfan Pathan or Mahendra Singh Dhoni up the order on Monday. The team combination may also witness a few changes with RP or Munaf getting a look-in.
Dravid, though, tried to put up a brave face. “The top-order has fared well in all the past series against Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan. If this were to happen in Tests, I would have been more concerned. Things are different in one-dayers. Some of the other guys have really made up for the lapses. Overall, I am happy with the batting in the first two games.”
Much of the talk revolved round the newly-laid barren and brownish pitch.
“It looks nice and firm... Much better than the wicket in Faridabad. It should produce a few more runs. A score of around 250 should be decisive,” was Dravid’s opinion.
Collingwood agreed. “The wickets in the last two games were bowler-friendly. This flat surface should help the batsmen.”
The stadium will be hosting a match since April 2001 following the fake ticket scandal during the India-Australia tie, which resulted in a ban on the Goa Cricket Association.
Dravid is hoping to keep the momentum going, though the Indians enjoy a zero success rate in the three matches here.
“I remember playing only one match. You can call it a jinx only if we played here every year and lost. There will be no let up in our efforts since we can play better and improve.”
The Indians are on the verge of a record 15-match winning streak while chasing, after having equalled West Indies’ mark in Faridabad.
The conditions may not have been to their liking, but England are hoping against hope of preventing a 0-3 scoreline.
“We remain positive' With a little bit of luck we could have won the last two games. There have been passages where we had dominated.
“We will try and transform that into a win on Monday. We have the talent and personnel... Just need to push our efforts a bit further,” Collingwood said.
England coach Duncan Fletcher is expected to join the side before the match after accompanying his ailing wife back home.
The light nets posed no hindrance though, as the support staff more than made up for the coach’s absence.
They will have to work overtime if the visitors intend to beat the heat before pouncing on the Indians. If Goa promises to be bad, there will no let up in Kochi either. Beware the Englishmen!
India (from): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan pathan, Y. Venugopal Rao, Ramesh Powar, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel.
England (from): Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones, Ian Blackwell, Liam Plunkett, Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Vikram Solanki, Matthew Hoggard, Sajid Ali.
Umpires: Asad Rauf, K. Hariharan. TV: I. Shivaram.
Match begins: 9 am.