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Final frontier awaits Dravid's men

Team India enter fray without conviction since fear of losing is bigger than the joy of winning. 'Why isn't Pathan in team?'

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 18:32 IST

India are once again in a quandary over team combination as they approach the fourth and final Test beginning on Friday with the ambition of clinching their first series win in the Caribbean in 35 years.

The curator of the Sabina Park has dished out a pitch that will be to the faster bowlers' liking but it is still no guarantee that the match will throw up a winner and break the series deadlock.

But both India and West Indies enter the fray without the conviction that they have the will or the firepower to undo the stalemate after the first three Tests ended in a draw. The only ones to have gained in the past one month are the batsmen and runs have been piled by tons.

Five of India's top six now have a century apiece under their belts. For West Indies, three of the top six have done similarly though the likes of Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels have not missed the honour by much.

Ironically, India's dilemma is not because the team is overflowing with talents. It is because they have a hazy outlook. The fear of losing is bigger than the joy of winning.

It may disappoint millions back home but the Indians are preferring progress over ambition.

The euphoria before the team embarked on their Caribbean mission has been firmly put on the backburner. The bowling is realistic and hopes to gain ground through pressure rather than naked aggression.

Indians have made some funny team selections in this series but it would be the ugliest if they opt for just two medium-fast bowlers for this game.

The wicket, true to groundsman Charlie's words, has hardened and the green live grass has also begun to sprout at places. It is a pitch which encourages a fast bowler to mark out his run-up.

India's dilemma is clear: if they decide to stick to their four-bowler theory, one of the spinners would have to make way. Anil Kumble is the lynchpin but Harbhajan Singh's five-for in St Kitts is a weighty matter too. His eight wickets in India's previous Test at Sabina Park in 2002 also lends credence to his claims.

If India wants to retain spinners and go with five bowlers, then one of the six top batsman could lose his spot. The worst case is that of Yuvraj Singh but the support for him within the team has been phenomenal. Captain Rahul Dravid, no less, views him as the best Indian batsman of the past season. There is no easy choice.

The coming Test will also be illuminating on Rahul Dravid and his approach to captaincy. Put it down to weather or pitches or circumstances not in his control, but Dravid has somehow appeared shy of taking the bull by the horns. He works by calculated assaults rather than risk the unknown.  

In view of how things have happened in the series, coach Greg Chappell either disagrees with him in private or chooses to pamper his captain's wishes. This isn't the art of winning which was heralded with much fanfare by the duo not very long ago.

Nobody denies the team has been hurt by Sachin Tendulkar's absence and Irfan Pathan's poor form. More the team management attempts to plead on behalf of inexperienced Indian medium-pacers, more it baffles that they have no time for those experienced now cast aside in the junkyard.

Similarly, home captain Brian Lara's request for a fast bowler has remained a cry in the dark. The West Indies selectors' goal comparatively is modest. They are preferring steadfastness over flamboyance. Solid progress matters more to them than a tilt at future still far.

Heat in Jamaica is sapping. At high noon, it isn't advisable to be out in the sun. The mercury in mid-30s here is more taxing than the dry heat of the sub-continent.

It's a good excuse for bowlers who are ordinary. But those who want to embrace a bold future for themselves and the team, the pitch at Sabina Park has all the ingredients.