India seek an unassailable lead against SA at Eden

The stage is set for an electrifying contest sans Dada as Sachin stands on threshold of a milestone.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2005 16:04 IST

Having put the brakes on South Africa's impressive winning streak, a determined India will seek to keep the momentum going with another commanding show in the crucial fourth cricket one-dayeron Friday.

With the five-match series poised 1-1, success at the Eden Gardens in Friday's day-night tie would give an unassailable lead to the winners - a perfect set-up for an electrifying contest after the washout in Chennai.

But apart from the on-field heroics, the toss could also play a vital part in deciding the fate of the game as the dew factor assumes menacing proportions at this time of the year.

Traditionally, teams batting second in day-night matches have returned red-faced from Eden on most occasions, and both captains would be hoping to emerge lucky in the spin of the coin.

India are likely to go with the same side that did duty in Bangalore, though new coach Greg Chappell's thirst for experimentation is forcing everyone to keep their fingers crossed.

The South Africans, on the other hand, return to a venue that will always have a nostalgic mention in their cricketing history. It was on this ground that they played the historic ODI against India that signalled their comeback to the mainstream of cricket after 22 years of exile during the apartheid era.

For Indian skipper Rahul Dravid, who could feel reasonably satisfied with the way his boys fought back after the Hyderabad debacle to steamroll the South Africans at Bangalore, a favourable result would be an apt celebration for getting the Test captaincy after a prolonged wait as Sourav Ganguly's deputy.

The Karnataka willower has had scores of 8 and 10 in the series so far, an ant-iclimax after his stependous show against the Lankans. A good knock at the Eden would be the pefect icing to what is turning out to be a fabulous season for him.

Batting genius Sachin Tendulkar stands on the threshold of another personal milestone but the sudden dip in his form after the blitzkriegs in the first two matches against Sri Lanka has already given rise to murmers of discontent among cricket buffs.

Scores of 2, 11, 19, 39, 2 and 2 in the last six ODIs (aggregate 75, average 12.5) must be rankling the little master himself as he seems set to overtake Wasim Akram as the most capped player in ODI history.

The Mumbai star, who has returned to top flight cricket after a battle with tennis elbow could, however, pep himself up by looking at his past showings against the South Africans at this venue.

In 1991, Tendulkar struck 62 to take away the man of the match award jointly with Allan Donald.

Two years later, in the Hero Cup semi-final, he failed with the bat but compensated for it by fashioning a pulsating Indian victory with a miserly last over with the ball.

The swashbuckling Virender Sehwag, the other batsman whose lean patch was causing concern, has signalled a return to form with a fine showing in Bangalore, and his fans would be hoping to see him in full flow on Friday.

But no analysis of the Indian team is complete without a mention of the youngsters, who are being so assiduously promoted by Chappell.

Irfan Pathan's success in recent times can be gauged from the fact that he took away three man of the match awards in the last nine matches. Apart from giving India the vital early breakthroughs with the ball, he has time and again proved himself worthy of the tremendous faith reposed in his batting abilities by Chappell.

Wicket-keeper batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni - who bagged the man of the series award against Sri Lanka -is fast emerging as the country's new cricketing idol, with his breathtaking shots and wide array of strokes increasing his popularity by the day.

The Eden crowdon Fridaywould also have high expectations from pacer R P Singh and the experienced offie Harbhajan Singh, particularly the latter, for whom the venue has been a happy hunting ground.

The visitors, who have lost both matches they have played on this ground, have a batting line up that boasts the likes of Smith, the flamboyant Justin Kemp and the experienced Jacques Kallis.

Their bowling department, however, seem a bit weak, and Smith would depend on Shaun Pollock and Mkhaya Ntini for making early inroads into the strong Indian batting line-up.

However, authorities would be concerned about the security aspect arising from the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the match on his home turf.

Though the Bengal left-hander found a place in the side for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Chennai, police and law-enforcement agencies have prepared themselves for demonstrations against Selection Committee Chairman Kiran More and coach Greg Chappell, whom Ganguly fans believe to be responsible for his exclusion from the side.

A thick blanket of security has engulfed the stadium and the hotel where the teams are staying.

"Those wanting to hold any such demonstration should better keep off the stadium and also the match, otherwise such acts will prompt the police to make arrests," City Police Commissioner Prasun Mukherjee said.

Squads (from):

India - Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Sreesanth, Gautam Gambhir, Rudra Pratap Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Jai Prakash Yadav.

South Africa - Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Kallis, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Albie Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Justin Ontong, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince.

Umpires: Darryl Harper (Australia) and A V Jayprakash (India).

Third umpire: I Sivram. Fourth umpire: Suresh Shastri

First Published: Nov 24, 2005 15:22 IST