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Kotla ODI: Ruin or redemption?

India will look to keep up good form in ODIs but there are problems, writes CS Luthra.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2006 02:22 IST

Given the fact that India seem to have invested everything in building a one-day side for the next World Cup, there's probably 21 days of fierce cricket ahead. However, there's also probably a heated debate on over which team is favourite to win the seven-match series between India and England commencing here at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Tuesday.

On the surface, despite their poor showing in the Tests, India have been a side on a roll in the one-dayers. After defeating Sri Lanka and drawing with South Africa at home and then coming back from Pakistan with a thumping 4-1 result, India would definitely be looking forward to take revenge for their Test loss at Mumbai. But, like always, there is a problem.

For starters, Andrew Flintoff. The talismanic England skipper will not be taking India, the one-day side easily. He hinted as much my calling this series "harder" than the Test series. Second, India's batting woes, till now, are far from being solved. They have only worsened with the loss of Sachin Tendulkar for the entire series. Even Virender Sehwag's fitness issue has not been handled properly, with everyone getting different versions at different points in time.

While Sehwag has been declared fit --- though that will have to be seen --- and nothing much can be done in Tendulkar's case, Flintoff's inspirational presence will be troubling India. Though England weren't taken seriously before the start of the Test series, now, things are different. And if the Indians were superstitious (which most cricketers are), they would not be happy with England's loss to an RCA XI two days ago. After all, before the Tests, England lost their warm-up game at Baroda and then were charged up though the series.

A minor foot injury to young speedster Munaf Patel on Monday has only added to the hosts' problems. Though Rahul Dravid termed Munaf's absence from practice as a "precautionary measure", keeping the few grassy patches on the Kotla track in mind, his non-availability could prove to be critical from India's point of view.

After a long time, there has been some grass left on the track. That means the team batting first will have to negotiate the early movement off the track. The side batting second would always be in the advantageous position. "It's going to be a typical one-day wicket. The pace bowlers with good speed and shoulder could expect to get some extra bounce from it," said BCCI pitch curator Daljeet Singh.

Both teams had their final practice sessions on adjoining wickets. If India opted to give some batting practice to their tailenders, then England more or less focussed on doing different kinds of drills. Sehwag incidentally, had a long batting session to gain some confidence while others too had a free-flowing net session against some very average local bowlers.

Although, the DDCA did better than on Sunday --- when they called a bunch of complete unknowns --- by calling three bowlers from its Ranji squad, the remaining players were there to basically boost the confidence of the home team batsmen. At one point, big hitters like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh were seen hitting every bowler over the fence at will.

However, tomorrow will be a different ball game. Gautam Gambhir looks all set to open with his Delhi skipper Sehwag. The middle-order would be packed with Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, Dhoni and the newfound bat in Irfan Pathan. The only problem the Indian think-tank could face is when deciding on its fifth bowler. It would be a tricky question: Do they go in with five bowlers or an extra batsman? Suresh Raina or Venugopala Rao are two contenders for this slot.

In fact, Raina's off-spin could provide India with a bowling partner for Harbhajan Singh, though Rao too had a long batting session at Monday's nets. Dravid said that India would definitely miss Tendulkar's ability to bowl his quota of 10 overs in one-day matches, so it looks certain that part-timers like Yuvraj or Sehwag could be called up to fill the void.

Teams (from):

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Venugopala Rao, Ramesh Powar, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, S. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel.

England: Andrew Flintoff (captain), Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, Ian Blackwell, Paul Collingwood, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones, Sajid Mahmood, Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Vikram Solanki and Andrew Strauss.