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December 2, 1999


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Batting blues for touring Indians

Chinmaya Pande with the Rediff Team

If a touring side were to be asked what kind of pitch they wanted to play a practise match on just prior to a Test series, they would probably point to the Sydney Cricket Ground, as is, and say -- give us something exactly the opposite of this one here.

Day one of the four day match between the touring Indians and the New South Wales Blues and, just over an hour into the game, Stuart McGill was turning the ball sharply enough to have the keeper lunging in front of first slip to take.

Given the nature of the ground, the Indians opted to rest Mohanty and give Kumble another game, where, just the previous day, the thinking in the team was to go in with an all pace attack, and rest the leg break bowler. Come to think of it, if winning this game is the goal, the Indians probably shot themselves in the foot by not playing Harbajan Singh as well -- sitting in the pavilion, the off spinnner must have been thinking hard thoughts of his non-inclusion for this game.

Saurav Ganguly, leading in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, won the toss and opted for first strike. 73 overs and one ball later, the Indians had folded for 185.

It was not -- the condition of the pitch notwithstanding -- a performance designed to inspire confidence. Yet again, the Indians showed the same problem of not being able to concentrate on the job at hand. Thus, batsman after batsman got in, got set, got out -- in that order.

The pacy Brett Lee was the focus of attention prior to this game. He did remove Devang Gandhi early and cheap, but otherwise had a rather undistinguished outing, despite the two lower order batsmen towards the close. He is noticeably quick, bowls incutters with fair regularity, but equally noticeably, doesn't do the one that seams away from the right handers.

Ramesh had an outing to forget, not lasting long enough to bat himself into any kind of touch. Laxman again showed good form, but regrettably threw it away when he looked set for a big one, and India went in to lunch at 70/3.

Post-lunch, McGill was getting the ball to turn 90 degrees, but Ganguly and Dravid handled him with a fair degree of composure even if their timing seemed awry at times against the rapidly turning ball.

McGill finally took out Dravid with the top spinner that fizzed through quicker off the deck, trapping the batsman bang in front.

Ganguly, meanwhile, was a touch below his prime form but still looked good, especially playing square of the wicket. He played a couple of good pulls off Lee and McGill, but another pull, this time off a Nash bouncer, had him waving the bat at ball tentatively, to glove to the keeper.

Hrishikesh Kanitkar, flown in as replacement for Ajay Jadeja, could well have been wishing he was back in the Windies at the head of India A. At least there, he wouldn't have had a McGill turning him inside out with googlies that he consistently misread. Frustration at being kept scoreless finally forced a wild pull -- which mid on took with ridiculous ease.

Vijay Bharadwaj, struggling for form and confidence, seemed intent on playing himself in and sticking around. The problem, though, was that the batsman failed to get the ball off the square often enough, which meant he couldn't rotate strike with his partner, which meant the pressure kept mounting on him all the time. Lee, returning for Nash, took him out with pace, trapping him in front with an incutter of fullish length before beating Agarkar, again for pace, to clean up his furniture.

Overall, India managed 185. And didn't manage to do what they should have been looking to, which is bat out overs, bat themselves into the long-innings frame of mind.

Agarkar struck an early blow when he got NSW opener Hayne outer-edging an intended cover drive, to Kumble in the gully. Srinath impressed early on, but then began straying in line and length. Kumble got a few to fizz, without however getting the kind of turn McGill -- a far bigger tweaker of the ball -- was producing earlier. And NSW, needing to negotiate 14 overs, went in with 35/1 on the board against their name.

A sidelight revolves around the fact that Dravid was asked to keep wickets. Ostensibly, M S K Prasad was being given some rest ahead of the rigours of the Test series about to begin -- but if it was felt that a keeper couldn't do duty through the tour, the selection committee, coach and captain should have gone in for a spare wheel when picking the side. Having decided that one keeper would do, it seemed rather silly to then rest him after just one game -- Prasad could have used the practise, both with bat and gloves, and the bigger danger lay in the possibility of Dravid, keeping on a decidedly bowler-friendly track, picking up an injury.


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