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Sehwag captain as Dravid to skip

Kaif is likely to come in the middle-order in the third Test against Sri Lanka.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2005 02:32 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

The Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium's place in the history of Indian cricket doesn't get undermined by the meagre number of players to have made it to the Test level representing Gujarat in Ranji Trophy.

Adorning the walls at the stadium situated in a corner of this city known as Motera are pictures of Jasu Patel, Dipak Sodhan, Dheeraj Parsana and Parthiv Patel -- Gujarat's flag-bearers to the highest grade of cricket.

Aptly placed above them and bigger in size are photographs capturing the moments of Sunil Gavaskar breaking the 10,000-run barrier and Kapil Dev snatching Richard Hadlee's world record for maximum Test wickets, at this ground in the 80s and 90s.

People behind this noble idea to remember achievements can add Anil Kumble to their small but significant collection when one of the most extraordinary leg-spinners in history steps out to play his 100th Test on Sunday.

As far as the Indian team was concerned a day before the match, however, facing the harsher side of reality was of immediate importance than getting swayed by emotions. In an unforeseen twist to the tale of who's playing and who's not, Rahul Dravid was in hospital with gastro-enteritis rather than being at the nets.

Far from losing sleep over replacements -- for the captain and his predecessor who played the last Test -- Greg Chappell started his interaction with the media on condition that there would be a ban on discussing "the hot topic".

That done, the coach was every inch a member of the ruthless Aussie teams he was part of. In complete command of activities at the nets earlier and expressing himself with precision while talking, Chappell oozed the confidence of the man who had elevated on-drive to an art.

"Many of us have not been keeping well and things could have been worse. But instead of thinking of it, we must see that we are fortunate to have good back-ups," he said without naming his alternatives.

This has been a trait of Chappell's stint as India coach so far during which the optimum utilisation of options is getting overshadowed by an abundance of dramas and his dislike for Sourav Ganguly.

There was one confirmation that Virender Sehwag will lead India for the first time, after missing the Kotla Test. Mohammed Kaif is likely to come in the middle-order with Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer battling for the remaining slot.

The visitors were struggling to stitch together the XI they prefer as Dilhara Fernando and Chaminda Vaas skipped practice with fever, while Maravan Atapattu and Muttiah Muralitharan weren't in peak condition. This makes one feel that they are not in the ideal state to prepare for a win that they need to square the series.

Coach Tom Moody did a Chappell here and refused to spell out possibilities, but there were indications during nets that opener Avishka Gunawardene and speedster Fernando could make way for Upul Tharanga and Lasith Malinga, respectively.

"We have a series to save and win a Test in India which has not happened before. We have chalked out strategies to attack them. Sixty minutes of bad cricket (in the first innings) cost us the second Test. We hope it's their turn to have a bad spell," said Moody.

The pitch prepared by Parsana is bald. The curator reckoned bounce would be true with turn later in later stages and the coaches agreed. After a low-scoring Test in the mid-nineties between India and South Africa, bowlers don't have fond memories of this wicket and the last two Test matches here ended in draws. The ODIs have seen tall scores including two matches where both sides crossed 300.

India have lost the two ODIs they have played here this year -- against Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- after registering the highest successful chase on Indian soil, against West Indies in November 2002.

But the Sri Lankans will remember that their only moment of joy during the 1-6 drubbing in the one-day series against India came here.

So there is reason to prepare for an interesting contest, but the focus in the build-up to this Test has somehow got shifted to matters beyond the boundary. Here's hoping that cricket again will become the centre of attention once the last Test before India's tour of Pakistan gets underway.

First Published: Dec 18, 2005 02:02 IST