The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rahul Dravid set to open yet again
- Local icon Sreesanth should make XI; Pietersen is now fit

Kochi: While Andrew Flintoff and Duncan Fletcher mulled England’s limited options over a quiet meal at the Taj Malabar, the hosts chose to be somewhat extravagant: The team meeting, late on Wednesday evening, was during a cruise off the lovely harbour. Dinner followed.

But, then, being 3-0 up allows for luxuries/handsome perks. Of course, the Indians must not get complacent or else England will stay afloat in the seven-match TVS Cup. Not that the venue-specific statistics mean too much, but India have a 3-1 record at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Perhaps because of the lack of hard competition, the locals haven’t been showing the enthusiasm which was (for example) evident in the lead-up to the last ODI ' against Pakistan, a year ago. In fact, with less than 20 hours for the fourth ODI, the S.K. Nair-headed Kerala Cricket Association hadn’t sold “around 10,000 tickets.”

There are other factors, too.

Sachin Tendulkar isn’t around. Then, much of the debate in these parts is over the forthcoming assembly elections. Politics and soccer rank very high on the interest-scale of Keralites. That Sreesanth, an icon across the state, got dropped in the last match (Margao) hasn’t helped either.

It’s unthinkable, though, that Kerala’s second India cricketer (after Tinu Yohannan) won’t play here ' according to The Telegraph’s sources, Munaf Patel is to get the axe. Unless there’s a rethink, there won’t be any other change.

The in-form Yuvraj Singh, who was down with severe cold and related problems on Tuesday, underwent a “precautionary” MRI on his right leg (at the Medical Trust Hospital) in the morning. Nothing alarming showed up and, so, he won’t be sitting out.

Yuvraj was one of four ' others being captain Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni ' exempted from match-eve nets. “We’ve been having too many activities in the past month... It’s good to forget bat and ball for a day,” the captain remarked, while interacting with the Media.

Mohammed Kaif ought to be sitting out (actually, he should have been dropped altogether), but is to get another chance. Despite four ducks in his last five one-day innings, coach Greg Chappell and Dravid have supreme confidence in the UP captain’s abilities.

The yardstick differs from player to player.

Dravid, it appears, is again going to open as the Indians want to continue with the five specialist bowlers’ formula. Robin Uthappa, therefore, has to wait for his maiden India cap. Incidentally, the captain did his bit to boost the morale of his out-of-form deputy, Virender Sehwag.

“We’ll do everything it takes to get him back to form,” Dravid said, adding that the option of sending Sehwag in the middle-order wasn’t exactly being considered. The captain’s comments as also that he got a hundred (a MoM-fetching 108) versus Pakistan ought to bring the best out of Sehwag.

It couldn’t be confirmed, but England are probably going to drop Owais Shah to allow for Kevin Pietersen’s return. Illness kept him out of the last match. Also, it seems Matthew Hoggard will take Sajid Mahmood’s place. The latter went for as many as 66 in a mere eight overs in Margao.

The wicket has traditionally favoured tall scores, except once, but the heat and humidity (not necessarily in that order) is going to test even the most battle-hardened. The support staff has a job on its hands.

LIKELY TEAMS (as of late Wednesday)

India: Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Sreesanth.

England: Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Ian Blackwell, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Vikram Solanki, Geraint Jones, Liam Plunkett, Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, K. Hariharan. TV: A.V. Jayaprakash.

Match begins: 9 am

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