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For Melbourne supremacy

As India take on Aus, Kumble says, “I don’t see any reason why we can't win." Kadambari Murali reports.

cricket Updated: Dec 26, 2007 13:13 IST
Kadambari Murali

For well over an hour after the rest of the Indians finished outdoor nets on Christmas Day here, one man battled against a machine in the indoor nets at the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Yuvraj Singh asked fielding coach Robin Singh to stay back — the rest of the squad left in the interim — and feed him from the bowling machine. He faced up to short-pitched deliveries coming at him at great speed, balls that would be fuller and force the batsman onto a defensive backfoot jibe, balls that moved away from the left-hander from just short of a length.

Later, he knocked around, asking the infinitely patient Robin to move forward and throw deliveries aimed at his body and just on and outside off-stump, as he ducked and weaved and moved aside amidst shouts of encouragement from the older man.

“These guys should really pay me for my shoulder,” Robin joked later. Yuvraj though, wasn’t joking at all, just managing a tired half-smile when he was done. “I’ve been having a stiff neck for the past couple of days that prevented me from batting with freedom and I really wanted to get some serious batting in,” he said, adding that his neck was perfectly all right now. It certainly looked absolutely okay, given the way he was batting.

You had to ask if he was nervous. He had to say no, sort of. “A little perhaps,” he then admitted, “but nothing more than the usual nerves before any big game.”

Not just another Test
But this Boxing Day Test that begins on the morrow, isn’t just any game for Yuvraj, or for India. The run-up to this game has largely been about the might of the Indian batsmen, how the seniors will fare, the perceived weak links in the Indian bowling and the might of the Aussies.

It has also been a lot about the verbal byplay expected on the field, the arrangements to curb racism in the stands and finally, about Sourav Ganguly, the man who will start his 100th Test here on Wednesday, an event that coincides with the 100th Test at the MCG.

Yet, this Test is as much about Yuvraj, to accommodate whose undoubted genius, the batting order will almost definitely be changed. And Rahul Dravid, India’s most successful Test batsman in recent years, especially on foreign shores, will be moved from his customary No. 3 position.

There will be a lot of pressure on Yuvraj to perform in this Test, or in any he plays for a while. While he’s gone with this one and asked Dravid to consider opening in order to make place for this one, it is definitely not something someone like Anil Kumble would have liked doing.

And given the person he is, there is every possibility that if it doesn’t work out for Dravid or India, or the former skipper indicates that he is very unhappy with the situation, the current India skipper will make a tough call in the next Test, or perhaps in the third in Perth and bring in another specialist opener. Which of course, means that someone in the middle will sit out.

3-1 combination likely
This, of course, is all hypothetical at the moment, but a likely scenario. That is why this Test becomes so important. As things stand, India are likely to go with a 3-1 combination, with Ishant Sharma backing up R.P. Singh and Zaheer Khan, even though Kumble refused to state whether he might opt for Harbhajan’s experience, or even commit to who will open with Jaffer.

“I need to have a look at the pitch and have a final call,” he said. “I can’t divulge anything about team dynamics, it will be a team decision as regards who will open. There is a case for playing two spinners, but it all depends on how the pitch looks. It is watered a little bit right now. It looks a good surface. There will be some movement early on, which is bound to happen.”

Kumble also said the Indians had plans, ones that will probably revolve around winning moments, then sessions and building on that. “I don’t see any reason why we can't win,” he added. Famous last words or the words of a visionary — by the time you read this, we might have an idea.