Lack of practice, injuries plague Indian team

Published: Saturday, November 3, 2001, 3:39 [IST]
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Bloemfontein: Battling injuries and lack of practice going into the first Test against South Africa in Bloemfontein on Saturday, the Indians saw their game plan being upset with question marks over participation of their key bowlers Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh.Nehra sprained his left ankle while bowling in nets on Friday, Harbhajan was said to have developed an infection due to wearing someone else's abdomen guard. Both were doubtful starters for the match with a final decision expected only on Saturday morning. Meanwhile, the Indians went on the defensive opting to open with Rahul Dravid instead of rookie left-hander Connor Williams who most likely would have to wait for his debut. With the only practice game ahead of the Test, the three-day match against South Africa 'A' in Chatsworth, Durban, having been washed out, Williams had not faced a single delivery after coming South Africa for the Test series and the Indian camp obviously found him too risky to be blooded straightaway. The team management reposed its faith in explosive Delhi middle-order batsman Virender Sehwag who will make his Test debut on Saturday. The latest developments mean India would go into the match with six specialist batsmen but the exact bowling composition would depend on fitness of Nehra and Harbhajan on Saturday morning. Team physio Andrew Leipus said Nehra was afflicted with the same problem that he faced in Zimbabwe where he fell more than once. "He faces this problem on slippery surfaces," Leipus said. The latest problems have given a serious jolt to India's quest for improving its head to head record against South Africa. India has never defeated South Africa on two previous visits to this country, losing three of the seven matches. In fact it was thrashed even at home last year when South Africa won both the Tests of the series. The head-to-head record between the two countries is heavily tilted in favour of the South Africans who have won six of the 12 matches and lost two. Yet captain Saurav Ganguly was quite hopeful of his team making a match out of it. He said his team was going into the match with a positive frame of mind and was quite capable of springing up a few surprises. This despite the fact that Indians have had the worst possible practice coming into this Test series. They suffered their ninth consecutive defeat in a final match when they lost to the hosts in the title-clash of the triangular One-day series last week. Then they watched in frustration as the Chatsworth game was washed out due to rain and wet outfield. To top it all, Dravid was found to have been carrying a shoulder injury. However, it is easy to see the reason for Ganguly's hope and optimism. It obviously stems from a strong batting order with most of the batsmen in good nick though their failure to click, as a unit has been a problem for the Indians. Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly himself have been among the top scorers in the one-day series. The Indian batsmen have shown no signs of their perceived weakness on the fast and bouncy pitches with Ganguly himself leading the charge against the South African speedsters. So much so, that the home team was reportedly worried about the lack of variety in its bowling attack. Ganguly was also expecting a lot from the two left-arm seamers - Nehra, if he plays, and Zaheer Khan - who joined the squad for the Test series. South Africa has not faced this variant of pace attack in recent times and both Nehra and Zaheer are expected to pose some problems to the home batsmen. Then there is Anil Kumble, a match-winner in his own right. Kumble would be returning to Test matches after a gap of more than a year and his form on this tour has shown he hasn't rusted. However, there are major worries too, the most important being the opening slot where an injured Dravid will combine with Shiv Sunder Das, who was not been very impressive in the two opportunities he got in the One-dayers. Extras:
Dravid fit for Test series: Dalmiya
Pollock unwilling to read too much into pitch
South Africans sitting pretty compared to Indians

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