Isle of green set for fast-pitched battle
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Isle of green set for fast-pitched battle

Windies have opted for a lively-looking track against India in the second Test at St Lucia.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 19:18 IST

Apart from the beaches and hills, what strikes a newcomer about this beautiful isle is the greenery. With rain in the air, the forests here are bristling with life, lending this tourist hotspot an instantly endearing look.

Embedded in the lap of the hills, which form a picturesque backdrop, the Beausejour Cricket Stadium is in sync with its surroundings. Even if the cricket that is to be played here from Saturday fails to charm, the ambience definitely will.

For the visitors from India, there is another green welcome, one that may not be too welcome: The pitch has a thick layer of grass, and not like the dead grass covering the strip at Antigua Recreation Ground. The vegetation on the surface here is full of life, which is unlikely to make life easy for batsmen, especially those not used to it.

Though Rahul Dravid said the think-tank wouldn't take a call on the team composition till the last moment, he faces a tough question — whether to recall Harbhajan or stick to the 3-1 pace-spin combination used in Antigua. It will be a surprise though if he opts for a second spinner.

This tells a lot about the West Indian strategy. They are not willing to take any chances with the Indian spinners and have prepared pitches that won’t crumble. It was the case in Antigua, where the bounce was even till the very end, without any sharp turn. The hosts of course, are playing to their strength --- seam.

The best way India can counter this is by batting deep — something they did well in the second innings of the first Test — and if their preparations are anything to go by, it's going to be no different here. The idea of fielding five bowlers has taken a backseat for the moment, and Chappell was devoting extra time to his six frontline batsmen.

This approach is in contrast to the one the team followed against Pakistan and England, but the coach seems to have had a rethink on his “horses for courses” policy. Despite coming to the Caribbean with the reputation of being a formidable batting side, India's top-order showed distinct signs of frailty in the one-day series and in the first innings of the first Test. They seem to have realised that to win matches, you have to take wickets, but it's equally important to protect them when you bat.As far as taking wickets goes, India are certain to make one change, with Sreesanth ruled out. Irfan Pathan is strongly favoured to take his place in the XI — even if the team goes for the unlikely and brings in Harbhajan, leaving out Munaf or VRV. With this possibility looking as remote as a desert storm in the Caribbean, the second Test in all likelihood is going to test the mettle of Indian batsmen in unfamiliar conditions. The hosts are keen to see a result at the Beausejour Cricket Stadium for the first time.

This venue has hosted two Tests since becoming an international centre in 2003 — games featuring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — and both were drawn, with rain playing spoilsport for a considerable amount of time. This time, as curator Ken Croften put it, they have prepared a result-oriented wicket.

Irrespective of all its natural beauty and the distractions St Lucia offers, the focus will be firmly on cricket when the ball rolls on Saturday. Weather permitting, it is certain to be an entertaining affair where the team to come to terms with conditions first should call the shots.

First Published: Jun 10, 2006 02:54 IST