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Indians aim to foil Lara?s pace plans

If Bhajji is back, then who's going to be dropped? A Mukhopadhyay probes.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2006 12:26 IST

The last time the Indians arrived here, the one-day series was level and the West Indian success story took off as they edged to a narrow win in the third match.

It’s been about a month since then and the cricket cavalcade is back in the smallest nation in the western hemisphere for the third match of the Test series which, again, is level.

As far as the similarities between these two trips go, Rahul Dravid would want them to end here. The West Indian revival was bad for the visitors in the ODIs and a repeat might lead to serious embarrassment to the visitors.

The surface at the Warner Park — which is set to host its first-ever Test — had a decent spread of grass on it till Tuesday, but Wednesday morning presented a very different picture. Most of the grass had been shorn off and only small patches of green remained.

In any case, Antigua and St Lucia have shown that all that is green isn’t all about seam movement and if nothing else, that experience will force Dravid and Greg Chappell into some serious brainstorming over the composition of the team.

The large Indian media contingent here has had to make do with stories (literally, at times) on two spinners or one, three medium-pacers or two, five batsmen or six during the long break.

With the D-day approaching, Dravid has dropped hints that the team will stick to the combination of six batsmen, wicketkeeper and four bowlers. “Ideally, we need five bowlers to win Tests. But with Sehwag chipping in with the ball, we can afford to have four,” he said.

Given the way the Indians have picked their final combinations over the recent months, what Dravid said may not mean much. But if he’s to be believed, then the pitch must prompt him into some serious rethink.

The trickier decision is yet to be made — and there is no reason to be envious of the men who have to make it. While on most occasions a four-pronged Indian attack would have an equal number of quick bowlers and spinners, the firm look of the wicket is bound to plant doubts in the captain's mind.

If Harbhajan is to be brought back, then who does Dravid drop? Is it a batsman or a medium-pacer? The answer is not easy and if a quicker bowler is to be sacrificed, on current form it should be Irfan Pathan. And if a batsman is to be sidelined, then the question becomes even tougher.

His counterpart is also not happy with the problem he has to solve. From Day 1 of the series, Brian Lara has maintained that he prefers a surface that would help quicker bowlers and regretted till the end of the second Test that he was still to get one. “I am sure our seamers will be more effective than the Indians if they get a pitch they like and that's our best bet to win Test matches,” Lara had said.

Time will tell if there’s any truth in his forecast. What’s certain is that on wickets not offering assistance, Lara’s fast bowlers have not troubled the Indians in the recent times. The only position he might think of changing would be the top order, where Daren Ganga has not done much in four innings. His place may go to Runako Morton. Coming back to the Indians, Dravid’s team must draw confidence from the way they played in the first two Tests. Now, of course, a new test awaits them here. They have reason to hope to be third time lucky — but they must remember they are back where luck started deserting them.