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Time to warm up under the sun

Before the Test series against England, the focus would be on the young players and the pace bowlers, writes Rohit Mahajan.

cricket Updated: Jul 07, 2007 16:04 IST
Rohit Mahajan

Less than a week after India's stirring, stunning win over South Africa in the one-day series in Ireland, the pace changes — it's back to the whites, red ball and a more cultured form of cricket.

Sussex, whom the Indians take on in a four-day match from Friday, are coming off still greater frenzy: On Thursday, they defeated Surrey by five runs in a Twenty20 game — the rain had abbreviated the game further to five overs, the tumult and the whirl were multiplied.

Both teams, thus, must put on the brakes, Sussex harder than India. The game, to be played at Hove, will put India's young and restless to a stern test. The one-day triumph was wonderful, but the change in pace will be marked, the concentration will have to be nursed. Indeed, India would require the intensity and the passion to last a while, for the season is young, there is much cricket ahead in what is probably India's busiest cricketing year ever.

Sussex are on top of the South Division of the English County Championship circuit. They reached the quarterfinals of the Twenty20 championship with that mad thrash for runs at The Oval on Thursday. In Murray Goodwin — formerly of Western Australia and Zimbabwe — they have a man in form, a man who's proved himself at the highest level. They have the experienced Pakistan leg-spinner/bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed, off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq and Naved-ul-Hasan, the Pakistan paceman. Sussex won't simply roll over, especially at home.

For India, the focus would be on the young players — the pace bowlers who would most likely determine the team's fortunes in the Test series against England, and the young batsmen who will try to prove they belong.

Then there are the 'freshmen' — VVS Laxman, Wasim Jaffer and Anil Kumble, three of the five Test specialists who joined the team after the one-dayers. The other two, Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose, had joined the team in Belfast as emergency replacements.

Though Robin Singh, the fielding coach, insisted that the bowling line-up would be decided only after conditions are examined at the Hove ground — the team has been practising at Hampshire county club's Rose Bowl over the last two days — the match would be the first of two opportunities India have of testing their young pacemen. They have one other practice game, against Essex at Chelmsford, before the Lord's Test.

India would have to bench some of the men who saw action at Belfast — Laxman, Jaffer and Kumble must get a game at least ahead of the first Test.

Jaffer comes up to the top of the batting order, where he will be joined by Dinesh Karthik. The management has the option of resting one of the main batsmen, they would like to see Yuvraj Singh bat in the long game, and one spot would go to Laxman in the game beginning Saturday.

Kumble and Sreesanth — the latter missed all but one of the Ireland games due to the flu — should be in. Zaheer Khan, dogged by a groin injury before the UK tour, was unplayable in spells and looks close to peak form, so he might sit out. The team, possibly, would like to take a look at one of the two young pace understudies, Bose and Sharma, who looked nervous during his one-day debut in Belfast, in difficult conditions and against a formidable foe.

The Rose Bowl on Friday was full of golden drops of sunlight, the dismal rain of Thursday was banished. The Indian team had a long workout in the nets.

Interestingly, Sachin Tendulkar spent quite a bit of time with Laxman, advising him on his technique. Sharma too had a long session with bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad. Robin Singh said later that there were no worries over fitness, that the team was confident and ready for the long game. Yes perhaps, and after their one-day wonders, the outfit does seem more confident.

However, days’ cricket is a whole different ball game and with England fairly confident on their home turf, India would be looking to score brownie points in the confidence stakes by at least winning their warm-ups.

The game begins at noon local time. Match Live on Star Cricket