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Last chance for hopefuls to show mettle

Gujarat takes its holidays very seriously, said a local at the Municipal Corporation Ground on Wednesday. On Thursday, Gandhi Jayanti, it seems that the whole state will go into shutdown mode.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2003 19:24 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali

Gujarat takes its holidays very seriously, said a local at the Municipal Corporation Ground on Wednesday. On Thursday, Gandhi Jayanti, it seems that the whole state will go into shutdown mode.

Nothing will function, no one will step out. “They might make an exception for the cricket though,” added my friend in the floral shirt, in between chewing paan masala and repeatedly touching the pink designer glasses perched on his head. “They take cricket seriously too.”

That they do. Any outsider walking past the India A team hotel at any time of the day, could be forgiven for thinking that most of Saurashtra is to be found on this street. For the present, all roads lead here and there’s a constant buzz around the place.

This, and the BCCI’s directive to increase security (someone up there has declared that there’s a heightened threat perception to cricketers, so metal detectors and countless cops are waylaying hapless people at various locations) means that Rajkot’s rocking. And not just to the Navratri dandiya.

The India A players were very relaxed ahead of this second three-day game against the Kiwis. The practice session in the morning under coach Sandeep Patil (who said he came in only last night because he was asked to come at the nth hour by the BCCI) was thorough but there was no sense of urgency, unlike in the Kiwi camp, where everyone seemed to be in hyperdrive — despite the intense morning heat.

The Kiwi team management insisted they were just peachy as they went through their paces but there was an obvious tension. While the past 10 days have been sunny and bright, with temperatures nearly touching 40 C, on Thursday afternoon, it rained heavily.

The first Test is just around the corner, the New Zealanders have been in the country for over 10 days and they’ve got only one real day of competitive cricket. No one was quite clear about whether it was a freak shower or an omen but the visitors wouldn’t be happy.

For all their nonchalance, they need to get some serious match practice under their belt before Ahmedabad. All the stimulative sessions in the world — even the most techno-savvy — cannot equal the real thing.

And if Stephen Fleming wants to make history by beating India in India, as he confidently declared they were set to do this afternoon, then he’d be slightly worried.

Incidentally, he said that both their frontline pacemen, Jacob Oram and Daryl Tuffey, would almost certainly be playing, as would the two spinners, so it’s more or less the main squad that will turn out in the morning.

The A team XI, led by Mohammad Kaif, will be known only when the selectors make an appearance. Both Syed Kirmani and Kiran More will be arriving late on Wednesday to select the playing XI.

What is interesting is that for probably the first time in Indian history, a tour squad features three raw pacemen — Munaf Patel, S Sreeshanth and Rudra Pratap Singh.

Kerala paceman Sreeshanth has one Ranji season behind him, the other two have none. All three will probably not play — as Patil said, the green look of the wicket is “misleading” — but it would still be fascinating to watch how they cope against international quality batsmen.

The wicket will have something in it for the faster bowlers early on but will probably settle down into a usual Indian batting track.

So, whoever wins the toss will logically opt to give his batsmen a chance to get some runs. And with India A having a host of hopefuls (including the contenders for the opening slot) in its fold, there would be many fingers crossed when Kaif and Fleming step out in the morning.

First Published: Oct 02, 2003 00:37 IST