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Testing time for Indian batsmen

Skipper Dravid's alert on WI pacers is a reflection of how his men perceive the forthcoming battle against the quickies.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 17:38 IST

Skipper Rahul Dravid's alert on West Indian fast bowlers is a reflection of how his men perceive the forthcoming battle against the quickies.

No Indian cricket team has travelled to the West Indies and not got worried about their fast bowlers. The pounding of generations has left its scar.

Be it Nari Contractor's kiss of death, Mohinder Amarnath's bloodied mouth or Anil Kumble's broken jaw, almost every visit to the Caribbean has exacted an ultimate sacrifice on a cricket pitch.

This time around, the Sehwags and Yuvrajs, Dhonis and Rainas face the litmus test of handling the Carribbean quickies, who possess the firepower to cause discomfort to the batsmen.

The young Indian brigade face the stern test of critics as well as in their own eyes as they prepare themselves for the challenge to change India's fortune outside their den.

The shaggy West Indies of today could fool critics and make Indian fans drool in anticipation but Indian batsmen know better about the threat they perceive in Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor, the two pacemen who have the ammunition to rattle any side.

Both bowl upwards of 90 mph, are hostile and were talented enough to be picked up for international honours after just one representative match. So far a series of injuries have kept them from unleashing their terror on batsmen consistently. Now, they are ready.

Both are also short which is a departure from the fast bowling dynasty of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner. They are also small in build-up which explains their strings of injuries. But Lara is determined to pull them through this season.

"The risk of overworking them is a major concern. Just look at them and you would wonder how they generate such pace with such small physiques. These guys bowl in the region of 90 mph and upwards, and surely the constant pounding will accentuate injury," Lara said.

"I must express how worried I am about the state of injuries to these young and very talented bowlers. Edwards continuously finds himself on the physio table and now has been sidelined at least five times in his brief career," the West Indies skipper said.

In three years of top cricket, injuries have allowed Edwards only 23 Tests and Taylor only four. There was a glimpse of what they could do together in Auckland in New Zealand recently before Taylor's hamstring pulled him up.

"Just to see him bowl a few overs in Auckland and you know the guy's got something to him," Lara said about Taylor.

No such issues prevented Edwards from leaving his mark. He was greased lightning even on sluggish New Zealand pitches and in Wellington was rewarded with a five-wicket haul.

"I still believe in him and believe he's got the potential to go far," remarked Lara.

Lara believes that their experience of last few years would now come handy.

"Most of these guys have virtually learned at the highest level" and not through a strong regional domestic structure.

"10 or 15 years ago, that wasn't the situation. It's not the situation at present with the best team in the world (Australia)" Lara said.

For the moment, the biggest priority for Taylor and Edwards is to keep themselves injury-free.

"The start-stop nature of my career has been somewhat frustrating to me, but to be honest, you cannot prevent injuries. You can only minimise the chances of getting them. Hopefully, now I can continue through the home series without injuries. This is another one of my goals," Taylor said.

Edwards has been doing his own homework on injuries as well.

"I am flat footed and the hard shoe base did not help. I have now got the insole done," Edwards said.

The word has got around that for the moment there is a fair bit of grass on the already quick pitch of Sabina Park for the first one-day international next Thursday. It might help explain why the Indians are returning from Montego Bay the same day after the practice match on Tuesday.

Taylor is in the local eleven which would face Indians in Montego Bay but he could be kept on hold for subsequent battles.

Coach Greg Chappell wants his batsmen to take more and more responsibility since he doesn't want anything less than five bowlers for the Tests.

If his batsmen can come through this test by fire, one suspects their process-driven coach would be happier than he would otherwise be by just a rare overseas triumph.

It seems neither Indian batsmen nor the fans will be able to take their eyes off from this rivetting battle ahead.