India walk into Lions' den
On Thursday morning, Rahul Dravid batted in the nets under a darkening sky, which threatened to pour every moment but waited till the Indians left the ground after noon. The captain looked comfortable, faced every bowler from Zaheer to Ganguly with a clear lack of distress. His left leg, which suffered what was described as a ‘minor strain’ on the first day of the tour-opener against Sussex at Hove, did not seem to bother him.
However, though the diagnosis is not worrying, the Indians don't wish to take any chances — they have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. Dravid has pulled out of the three-day match against the England Lions, which begins here on Friday. Though it is termed as precaution, it does mean that India will not play their first XI, the team they would have liked to field against England at Lord's from July 19.
Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are pitched back into a match situation for the first time after the Irish sojourn, the former will lead the team. Anil Kumble and RP Singh go out, in come Ramesh Powar and Zaheer — this one inclusion should brace up the bowling no end. And since Ranadeb Bose has already shown what he has to offer, Ishant Sharma is likely to be included in the XI.
Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, who joined the team on Wednesday, kept a close watch on the nets. “We decided to omit Kumble also because we wanted to explore other options, wanted to give Ramesh Powar an opportunity too," said Chandu Borde, the cricket manager. “We wanted to see what the others had to offer.”
That they would wish to, especially in the wake of the game against Sussex — it is unclear what India gained at Hove. They came close to winning the match, but it was a contrived thriller, the first three innings were declared as the captains decided to go for a result. Coming close got India no credit, they instead have been criticised for the failure to close the match. The verdict on the batting too is rather ambiguous. Most of the bats fired in the first innings, but the collapse in the second was worrisome, especially the second failures of Wasim Jaffer and MS Dhoni. However, both got runs in India's last Test, against Bangladesh, and it would be very difficult to omit them from the first Test.
But the two must perform, for VVS Laxman is almost a certainty for Lord's, and Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh are challenging for a spot. Finally, Sussex had opted to rest their key players, including their captain and overseas pros.
The opposition at Chelmsford, though, don't seem to be overly leonine. The England Lions are more cub cricketers, men who're just beginning to make a niche for themselves in county cricket — they have a rather manifest lack of roar.
Andrew Strauss will lead them — he is battling bad form, which has seen him being dropped from the Test team. He has expressed his delight at the opportunity, and that's the adjective most others in his bunch would use to describe their state of mind. Owais Shah is one of them, as is Ravi Bopara, hoping to make his way back to national reckoning. Adil Rashid, a 19-year-old being talked of as a leg-spinner of great promise, is another young hopeful. India, thus, would not have much to fear from the team known as England A, though they have some fears, it would be their own chinks they'd wish to close.