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Final battle in the land of plenty

On a belter of a pitch at Vizag, India and Sri Lanka seek to make early WC points, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay .

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 02:39 IST

It could not have been better than this — the last match before the World Cup, a series-decider on a pitch promising lots of runs at a ground with probably the prettiest surroundings in India.

Embedded in the heart of the Eastern Ghats, the ACA-VDCA Stadium here will host a contest which is much more than merely the last match of the Hero Honda Cup series between India and Sri Lanka. Saturday's game will end the World Cup countdown in terms of preparation, and launch the final run-up to the big event.

Excitement can subdue a lot of things and perhaps that is why Rahul Dravid did not seem overly worried about the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, who has skipped the trip to the coast of Coromandal because of a bad back. "It's just a precautionary step so that it doesn't develop into a problem," said the skipper after practice on Friday.

This means that an in-form batsman in a team that is trying to sort out problems in the middle-order is out. It also reduces bowling options, but Dravid has spent enough time in the hot seat to know how to conceal worries. And only a man who has a few can do that.

With no more time to experiment, there is still no certainty about the opening slots, barring the fact that Sourav Ganguly looks good to occupy one of them. All sorts of things are being said of Virender Sehwag, struggling to find form; even the middle-order seems unsettled due to a question mark over Yuvraj Singh's fitness.

But this being India, one-day cricket being the opium of the masses, one victory can go a long way in hiding all sores. Dravid would probably be ready to give everything to win this one so that the daggers stay under wraps until his team leaves for the World Cup.

India's win in Goa to square the series was creditable because it came in a situation when the loss of another wicket could have put India to a sterner test. The skipper rose to the occasion, as did MS Dhoni, once again showing that he is not all slam-bang.

At the same time, those runs came against a side that was resting all its frontline bowlers. India might argue it was not their problem, but that would be basking in false confidence. There are a few problem areas in batting which have exposed the the side on a number of occasions in recent times. Victory is the only balm that can ease this pain, though it may not heal it completely.

Back to Saturday's match. This is the ground where Dhoni had exploded into stardom with a knock of 148 against Pakistan in 2005. That game had seen an avalanche of runs and it is unlikely to be any different this time.

"There might be something for the quick bowlers, but I think we will see a lot shots," predicted Dravid, adding that Anil Kumble and S Sreesanth will not play. This means a chance to see how Irfan Pathan has recovered from a side strain, though these might not be the best conditions to try a bowler who has suffered from lack confidence of late.

In fact, on this pitch, bowlers from both sides can develop confidence problems. The skipper would still take that, for it is the confidence of the batsmen that matters most at the moment.

Email Atreyo Mukhopadhyay: atreyo.mukhopadhyay@hindustantimes.com