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Teams eager to get on with the game

The first thing you notice about the road to Motera just outside Ahmedabad city ? the venue of the fourth India-West Indies one-day international ? is the sand.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2002 01:06 IST

The first thing you notice about the road to Motera just outside Ahmedabad city – the venue of the fourth India-West Indies one-day international – is the sand. It's everywhere, swirling, coating everything within distance in fine grit. The next thing you notice are the policemen. They're everywhere too, two every few metres, idly chewing tobacco, watching passersby and occasionally doing a random check.

They pay no attention to Ramesh, the panwaadi's assistant just outside the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium, who hopefully asks if anyone wants a ticket. The rates are fixed – Rs 50 ticket goes for Rs 250, Rs 100 for 300 and Rs 300 for 500. The 1500 tickets, he informs you with a wise air, were sold only over the phone.

Everyone's busy on Thursday afternoon and this is just the dress rehearsal - Friday is the gala nite and the stage is set for Motera to host its first one-day international under lights. Hopefully, this match will finally see the news about what's happening on the field - an oasis of green - rather than what's happening off and getting thrown on it instead.

It's an important time for both teams, the best time to test each person in the run-up to World Cup. "It's also the last opportunity to experiment with various combinations and find the best 15 before the World Cup," said Indian vice-captain Rahul Dravid. "New Zealand will be too late as the team for South Africa has to be announced before the one-day series begins there."

Skipper Sourav Ganguly was not there for the practice session but was due to arrive later in the evening from Kolkata, where he had been to see his father, who is unwell.

India's experiments with the batting line-up are probably at an end for the moment at least, with Ajit Agarkar, used as a pinch hitter in the first two games with partial success, being left out of the squad much against Ganguly's wishes. With Anil Kumble also being "rested", Harbhajan Singh will have to perform better than he has so far. He has two wickets in the series so far, both at Rajkot, but was expensive, his 10 overs going for 59 runs.

Dravid said it wasn't easy bowling in one-dayers anymore, especially for spinners. "The conditions are ideal for batsmen and it's very hard for the bowlers, but that's the way one-day cricket is played these days," he added. With Agarkar gone and India in dire need of good bowlers, L Balaji might make his debut or Murali Kartik might play his second game unless the think tank makes do with bit players.

The bit bowlers came up with the goods in Rajkot, with Ganguly and Sehwag having the best figures, but they might not be enough if this is "find the best 15" time.

The West Indians will decide their XI late on Thursday night but a question mark remains over the fitness of skipper Carl Hooper and paceman Pedro Collins. Hooper agreed with Dravid that it has been difficult for the bowlers but said they were happy at the way they are shaping up as South Africa looms ahead.

Hooper added that the team was focused at the game at hand and not letting the off-field problems get to them.

Manager Ricky Skeritt was at pains to point out that they were not planning to withdraw from the series under any circumstances.

Talking to the Hindustan Times, he said, "We are here to play against one of the best one-day teams in the world and are determined to play as much cricket as the crowd allows us to. We'll take it a game at a time."

Stressing that ICC Match Referee Mike Proctor led the team off at Rajkot and the West Indies did not walk off on their own, Skeritt said that the fact that Hooper led the team back onto the field at Jamshedpur after the match was declared abandoned is a sign of the commitment the West Indies had to playing. "In Rajkot, the players felt genuinely threatened," he added.

Interestingly, while Skeritt refused to comment on Proctor's decision to award the game to India by the Duckworth-Lewis rule - he said captains and managers could not comment on a referee - he did say that they "prefer a cricket decision to take place on a cricket field".

The Indians will be looking to make their own statement on the field come Friday.

First Published: Nov 14, 2002 23:45 IST