Kingston: With the flying time no more than 20 minutes, Rahul Dravid may not have flipped through Air Jamaica’s in-flight magazine on the trip back from Montego Bay late on Tuesday. If the Team India captain did, he couldn’t have missed the ‘las’ lick’ column.
It began: “Cricket and music have much in common ' pitch, movement, swing and beat, although recently ‘beat’ is something that has been happening to the West Indies team rather regularly...”
The issue hit the seat pockets before Brian Lara’s men decimated Zimbabwe 5-0, but even the most passionate in these parts appreciates that thrashing Zimbabwe can’t figure very high on anybody’s CV. So, till Lara’s men lick a formidable opposition, that ‘las’ lick’ column won’t have to be rewritten. That they’re currently placed just above Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the ICC’s one-day rankings is a pointer to how much catching up has to be done by the one-time unbeatables.
For the record, the No. 3 position is India’s.
The reinstated Lara, who greeted Dravid affectionately before a Media session organised by series sponsors Digicel, accepted that the “real test” would begin at Sabina Park here. He was quick to add “history suggests odds favour the West Indies.”
Indeed, he also remarked “winning could be contagious” and indicated going for a “settled” team rather than “experimenting.”
While the West Indies whipped a weak Zimbabwe, the Indians thrashed a weakened Jamaica Cricket Association XI in the tour-opener. Yet, as Dravid explained, it was a “good workout” and the intensity pleased him. There have, after all, been instances of “side matches” being taken lightly.
That, then, is the back-drop to the five-match face-off which gets underway on Thursday. The Sabina Park wicket won’t be as fast and bouncy as in the Seventies and Eighties, when it was often terrifying, but those in the know insist it still is the quickest in the Caribbean.
The Indians, incidentally, have never played a one-dayer here. Now, they will be featuring in two over three days. Fingers, though, are crossed over the weather. The forecast wasn’t available with the Jamaica Cricket Association, but it rained around breakfast and towards lunch on Wednesday.
Owing to the World Cup-related construction, Sabina Park doesn’t have practice facilities. As for the alternative of the day, Melbourne Cricket Club, rain hampered a proper session there. The quicks, by the way, had a day off bowling.
In keeping with his stand since he got the captaincy full time, last October, Dravid maintained “we’re looking to improve as a team” and more than suggested he would continue to open till Sachin Tendulkar returned after his latest surgery.
Could the fact that only six (Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh and the captain himself) of the 15 have toured the West Indies before actually be an advantage' Dravid replied: “Possibly, as they aren’t carrying the history of the earlier tours...”
While India (under Sourav Ganguly) won the ODIs in 2002, the last Test series win was as far back as 1971.
Dravid didn’t dwell much on the hosts. He said: “I focus on my team... Look after my team... However, I do know the West Indies are good and are going to be competitive.”
Meanwhile, according to The Telegraph’s sources, Mohammed Kaif is set to make a comeback. That he scored 49 in Montego Bay has helped. In any case, Dravid and coach Greg Chappell have been backing him consistently.
Had offie Ramesh Powar not hurt himself on Monday, then Yalaka Venugopal Rao would have been dropped. Many hours from the match, though, it seems he will keep his place and the Indians could (out of compulsion) field just four specialist bowlers.
It’s going to be a tricky call.
“I’m not in pain... Abhi kuch dard nahin hai,” Powar remarked as he headed for breakfast at the Hilton. The team management, however, doesn’t want to risk aggravating the injury to his tightly strapped right ankle.
Sreesanth, one learns, hasn’t recovered from the soreness on his left heel. He participated in a beach session for the quicks, on Wednesday morning, but has been “advised” not to rush things. The Kochiite is far too valuable.
So, two first XI players won’t be there in match No. 1.
INDIA (likely): Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Yalaka Venugopal Rao, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel/Rudra Pratap Singh.
WEST INDIES (from): Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, Runako Morton, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Smith, Carlton Baugh (Jr), Corey Colleymore, Fidel Edwards, Jerome Taylor, Ian Bradshaw, Dwayne Bravo, Dave Mohammed.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Asad Rauf.
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe.
Match starts: 8 pm (IST).
The following are excerpts from what the captains said, in Kingston, on Wednesday morning:
Rahul Dravid: We’re constantly looking to improve... We’ve got a young crop of fast bowlers and, within a few months, they should be more experienced... I’m excited about them... We would like to get some wins under our belt early on... We’ve tried to be flexible and there could be a time when the openers will bat at No. 5/6 to get a feel of the situation which prevails then... I’m enjoying the captaincy... It has its challenges and its tough days...
Brian Lara: India have the talent and even without their premier batsman (Sachin Tendulkar) are still a force... The true competition is going to be against India, but the series versus Zimbabwe was important from the point of view of confidence... I’m 90 per cent happy with our disciplines... We’ve been rotating players and that has been helpful... Good teams rest the key ones... It’s important to start on a winning note...