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The Motera mystery

cricket Updated: Apr 05, 2008 12:17 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Anil Kumble is an angry man. His pre-match press conference lasted less than the time it takes to boil Maggi noodles. And in the heat of Ahmedabad you wouldn’t even need a stove. But something has clearly lit Kumble’s fuse.

The usually composed Indian Test captain showed no signs of his customary composure, and answered even the simplest of questions about players’ fitness with a deadpan “we’ll have to see tomorrow.” All he would reveal was that VVS Laxman would bat up the order in Sachin Tendulkar’s absence.

The tomorrow that Kumble was referring to could turn out to be a nightmare of a day for the Indians. While all the talk of psychological edges and carrying forward momentum had thankfully evaporated, it was clear that South Africa wore a far more settled look than the Indian camp. Something’s not quite right at the moment, and the slew of injuries had made things that much more difficult.

Pitched battle

Was Kumble merely pre-occupied with his own fitness? After the last two practice sessions, he had to ice his upper right thigh, but this could have just been a precautionary measure.

The severity of his injury is not clear, and India will want to keep it a closely guarded secret till the morning of the Test, even if he is to miss out. The thing with Kumble is that he will certainly want to play, niggle or no niggle.

The man who strapped his jaw up and strode out to bowl despite medical advice is unlikely to flinch at the thought of straining a troublesome thigh.

But if Kumble’s angst did not stem from his injury, then it could well be because Dhiraj Parsana is being his quixotic self and refusing to serve up a pitch that will help India’s cause. While things could change dramatically by the time the first ball is bowled, there’s a fine covering of live grass on the pitch at the moment.

Parsana insists the game is not about what one player or one team wants, and in the interests of producing a proper sporting contest, he has to leave the grass on to bind the surface.

Supporting cast

When South Africa arrived in India with only a 14-man squad, they must have been amused to see that the hosts had a larger contingent. But, when push comes to shove, India doesn’t really have adequate replacements in their ranks. While no one can adequately replace Tendulkar, an in-form batsman with a proven track record would have been handy.

Yuvraj Singh could be that man — talented, hungry, destructive — if fully fit. In home conditions, he can dominate any attack, but despite everything the team says, he does not appear to have recovered completely from the crocked knee that has troubled him.

Mohammad Kaif, with all due respect to him and the runs he has scored in domestic cricket this season, is unlikely to inspire either confidence in his team, or fear in the opposition.

With Ishant Sharma pulling up after bowling a dozen balls, it seems like the pace cupboard is quite bare too, and RP Singh wasn’t 100% fit when he took the field in the first Test. Piyush Chawla is enthusiastic and accurate, but can only figure as a third spinner, not as someone who can lead an attack, much less as Kumble’s replacement.

The list of problems seems endless for the Indian camp, and when asked about the pitch, Kumble summed up the situation succinctly, saying there were “too many questions and too few answers,” in the course of his 2 minute 28 seconds press conference.

Stark contrast

As per original plans, the South Africans were to arrive in Ahmedabad in disarray, having suffered at the hands of the mighty Indians in Chennai. If anything, the opposite is true. The visitors have a settled XI, and only a last-minute injury will force a change in the team.

What’s more, five of the top six batsmen have got runs and spent time at the wicket, with only Jacques Kallis missing out. Kallis is too seasoned a cricketer, someone Rahul Dravid called one of the greats of this generation, for a single-match blip to cause any concern.

The pace attack, always South Africa’s strength, went through a trial by fire (and extreme humidity) in Chennai, and showed it has the strength of character and body to come through. Paul Harris is is one of those rare spinners who can take his beating bravely, and will not be unduly cowed down. If the grass stays on this surface —and there’s a good chance this might happen, for removing it would take the top off the pitch and make it a downright crumbler — then things will only look up for the Proteas.