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Home record is India?s main weapon

It?s hot, really hot. As you drive down the dusty road out of Ahmedabad city to Motera there are not too many people in sight.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2003 00:23 IST

It’s hot, really hot. As you drive down the dusty road out of Ahmedabad city to Motera, which will host the first Test between India and New Zealand from Wednesday, there are not too many people in sight.

Unlike last year, when the India vs West Indies one-dayer here saw the narrow road to Motera clogged even two days before the match, this time around it’s all missing. After all, it’s a Test. The hype, the noise, the marketing is less, the pace is more leisurely, the conditions much more warm, more sandy. It’s serious business.

The Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium itself though, is a hotbed of feverish activity. A sea of khaki greets you as you enter the gates. The cops are out in full force to protect our boys from perceived threats — what those threats are exactly, is a dark secret known only to a select few. Anyway, you have the cops. And those larger than life images of New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming.

A stray visitor to Motera could be forgiven for thinking that the Kiwi skipper is the host and not the visitor. He and Australian skipper Ricky Ponting are obviously contracted to the sponsors and there are huge cardboard displays all over the place.

Fleming, especially, has pride of place — here, there, everywhere. Him, in his black cap. For the Indian angle, there’s a huge cut out of Shah Rukh Khan swinging a bat with panache.

Welcome to Motera.

The Indians get their international season off to a start here, definitely the favourites, despite the fact that four out of six Tests here have seen no result. After all, it’s home and as Sourav Ganguly said on Tuesday, “We’re not overconfident but our record at home is indication enough that we should win.”

The Kiwis want to win too obviously, but will probably be quite okay with a draw, despite their exhaustive preparations for the series. They’re not too unhappy with the wicket, which left the Indian spin combo looking quite melancholic.

The wicket has been watered and looks damp but is largely expected to dry out by today. It’s somewhat brown and there’s a bit of grass on it, though indications are that even that bit could be off by the morrow.

Even then, the experts here believe that the wicket has been tightly bound and will not break early and will probably stay a flat, batting track for the most and may just turn by Day Three.

India will be hoping that their two debutants here, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Aakash Chopra, will come good — the selectors will be looking at both ahead of the all-important tour to Australia.

While Balaji may find it a tough debut in conditions which might not be very helpful after the first session, Chopra will have a lot to prove and first, perhaps, to his own skipper.

Ganguly went on record yet again on Tuesday to protest Sanjay Bangar’s exclusion. “Unfortunately, we don’t have Sanjay Bangar in this side —- for whatever reasons,” he said. “The fifth bowler’s slot will be shared by Sachin, Viru and myself.”

Ganguly might be upset with the Railway allrounder being asked to sit out more because of his bowling (Bangar would have been fifth bowler) than batting, but the repeated remarks have raised eyebrows in cricketing circles here.

Anyway, that’s a different matter. Of this series itself, while both captains are suddenly playing down talk of this being a revenge run, other than saying it’s media’s concoction, there’s definitely a fair bit of mind-games on.

Wright had said on Monday, “We are encouraged by the fact that three of our boys (Chopra, S Ramesh and Hemang Badani in the tour games) got hundreds against this attack.”

Kiwi coach Ashley Ross later said that tour games didn’t matter.

Fleming has been at pains to point out time and again that despite the publicity accorded to the New Zealand preparations, India were the ones who would be stressed.

“We expect a tough battle given their home record but they will be expected to win easily. You have a demanding public and a very demanding media. India are expected to win 2-0, the pressure is all on them.”

Then again, on Monday, Fleming had made what seemed like a chance remark on the face of it (but was probably not).

He had said that India probably had the best batting side in the world in their own conditions but their away record was nothing much.

Ganguly was obviously piqued. On Tuesday, asked about that remark (which really has nothing to do with this series), he immediately retorted, “It’s a debatable issue. Averages reveal everything and to be honest, our top six batsmen haven’t done too badly abroad on the whole.”

And then he added, “That’s what he (Fleming) feels and he says what he wants.”

The battlelines are drawn. Let the Test begin.

The Teams:

India: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Parthiv Patel (w-k), Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji. (Yuvraj Singh 12th man)

New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (capt), Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Robbie Hart (w-k), Daniel Vettori, Paul Wiseman, Daryl Tuffey, Ian Butler (squad of 12 named, 12th man to be decided on Wed morning).

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen and David Sheppard.

Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

First Published: Oct 08, 2003 00:12 IST