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May 6, 1999


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Easy does it, for the Indians

The Rediff team

Two practise matches against scratch local sides saw the Indian World Cup squad posting fluent wins.

The result was predictable, given the quality -- or lack thereof -- of the opposition. But then, the idea behind those games was simply to get the team out in the field, and playing as a unit, and both coach Anshuman Gaekwad and consultant Bobby Simpson professed themselves satisfied with the way preparations have gone thus far.

What interested the Indian think tank most was the form of Venkatesh Prasad and Debashish Mohanty -- both seam bowlers revelled in the conditions, to make the ball do all but recite Shakespeare. Mohanty in particular has been proving a handful, both in the nets against the Indian batsmen, and in the two scratch games thus far.

On the batting front, the real silver linings, according to the team management, have been the play of Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly. Both batsmen -- who incidentally hit the big time in England during the tour of 1996 -- appeared to have made the adjustment to seaming conditions with great ease.

Things in fact seem to be going well for the Indians, at their base in Leicestershire. After several rainy days, the weather has finally relented and temperatures of around 18-22 degrees C over the last three days has meant that the team got its full quota of practise under conducive conditions.

Interestingly, the Indian team's decision to rest Sachin Tendulkar in both the practise matches played thus far produced a flood of rumours, mainly to the effect that the master batsman has fractured his ankle and will play no further part in the World Cup.

Nothing, though, could be further from the truth -- Tendulkar was rested at his own request, mainly because the Indian opener felt he didn't want to go out against mediocre bowling, and lose that mental edge. He has, however, been having very long stints at the nets, his batting time stretching to an hour and a half right at the outset of each session, when the Indian bowlers are fresh and steaming in quite nicely.

The side has slipped into the habit of having batting and bowling nets in the mornings, with fielding taking up the evenings and video-watching and strategy sessions slated for the late evenings and nights. Interestingly, administrative manager Brijesh Patel -- himself a Gujarati -- has established a quick rapport with the Gujarati community which dominates the Leicestershire region, and has used that rapport to keep the team insulated from the hordes of fans who want to spend time with them and invite them to parties and dinners at the rate of a dozen a day.

Patel has laid down a moratorium against socialising, and that, say both Gaekwad and Simpson, is helping the team stay focussed on its build up for its Cup campaign. Simultaneously, the team management has also forbidden free interaction between the media and the players, in a bid to prevent needless distractions.

The team manageement is also dismissive of rumours that speak of injuries to the likes of Allan Donald (stomach), Jonty Rhodes (wrist) and Lance Kluesener (foot).

"You should never take these things seriously, for all you know it could be a psychological ploy to get us to relax," Gaekwad said. "As far as we are concerned, our focus is on keep our boys injury-free and match fit -- anything else is a bonus, but we are not counting on it, our planning is towards taking on the full strength South African squad on the 15th, at Hove."

The biggest silver lining in the scenario, the management consensus runs, is that the tournament is taking place in England, well away from the corporate-sponsored hype and hysteria gripping the Indian sub-continent. "It is good to be away from the pressure, the players can concentrate on their tune-up without all the strain that comes from it," Gaekwad said.

The feeling within the management is that recent Indian failures are actually helping the side. "For one thing, they underlined our problem areas, so now that we have the time, we know what to focus on. And for another thing, it has lowered expectations among the fans, most people back home now think we won't get into the Super Six, so for once, the team can go out and play without the pressure of expectations, and that is helping the team morale considerably," the Indian coach said.

As to the areas being focussed on, the team management has the players working on one area in particular -- dropping the ball into the gaps and running the short singles. Bobby Simpson, as coach of the Australian squad in the 1987 World Cup, had based his entire strategy on the thought that the team that scored the most singles would win the tournament, and a similar line of thinking is being adopted for the Indian team during the tune-up.

"Take singles when you are batting, stop them when you are fielding, about sums it up for us," Gaekwad said.

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