~~Opener~~ Ganguly wants to lead from front
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2001, 21:59 [IST]
India's South African Safari
Port Elizabeth: Short of match practice and struggling to find the right opening combination, India has its task cut out as it goes into the second Test against South Africa, starting on Friday, chasing its first win in this country. Captain Saurav Ganguly's decision to take the bull by its horns and come in as an opener has already generated a lot of interest in both camps. With Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman reluctant to open the innings and Connor Williams, who was flown in for the Test series as a specialist opener, still untested after India's both first- class fixtures were washed out, Ganguly decided enough was enough and announced his intention to open the innings along with Shiv Sunder Das. "I am not an escapist. Whatever happens out there, I am willing to face," Ganguly said on Thursday. A regular opener in One-dayers, Ganguly has opened the innings just once in his 47 Tests. But he said the need of the hour was to set an example for the team. "Sometimes the captain has to take extra responsibility and lead by example," Ganguly said. South African coach Graham Ford did not read too much into Ganguly's decision. "It is an interesting choice... but we still have to get his wicket," he said. Ford said the Indian captain was a class player and "it doesn't matter whether he comes at number one or six". Ganguly's decision has removed a headache for Dravid, who has never been successful as an opener and flopped in both innings of the first Test. Now that he has been relieved of that burden, Dravid can be expected to play his usual pillar role in the middle order. Laxman too will have to advance beyond the attractive 20s and 30s and make a big score. He has been throwing away his wicket after getting set and such suicidal instincts is doing no good either for him or to the team. Sachin Tendulkar was in ominous touch in that magnificent 155 he produced in the first innings of the Bloemfontein Test to rescue his team from deep trouble. As usual, his performance would be central to India's prospects in the match. India's latest star Virendra Sehwag showed tremendous temperament and adaptability in compiling that debut hundred in the first Test. He is in terrific nick and, coming at number six, lends solidity to the middle order. The visitors are all set to include Harbhajan Singh in the side and go into the match with two spinners. The absence of the Punjab off spinner in the first match was felt acutely as the Indian bowlers were thrashed by the home team. There were indications that Ajit Agarkar may be included in the 11 while both left- arm seamers Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan would be left out. After the nine-wicket defeat in the first Test, both coach John Wright and Ganguly had admitted that it was probably a mistake to leave out Agarkar, who had an impressive One-day series, and they look all set to rectify it. Veteran speedster Javagal Srinath took a five-wicket haul in Bloemfontein and also completed 200 wickets in Tests and is a certainty for the match. Ganguly later shrugged away the lack of practice for his team and said the boys were ready for the match. "Even though we didn't have much of practice due to rain, the boys are raring to go and we would try to win this Test," he said. "Hopefully our bowlers would do a good job and we should be able to pile up important runs." Ford also said South Africa was not underestimating the Indians after the comprehensive win in Bloemfontein. "In my opinion, India ran us very close which was not reflected in the eventual result. If India had made a few more runs in the second innings, it really could have become interesting towards the end," he said. Ford felt instead of becoming a handicap, the lack of practice could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Indians. "I am sure they are hungry and would come out blazing in the second Test." The South African coach said his team was not unduly concerned by the inclusion of Harbhajan Singh. "We have seen a fair bit of him in the practice game and in the One- dayers and have a reasonable idea what to expect," he said. Even though the pitch looked overtly in favour of the pace bowlers, Ford said the spinners could play an important role. "When it is blazing hot, the medium-pacers do get tired and thus spinners have an important role in a five-day Test." Ganguly felt the wicket at St George's Park was quite sporting. "It is a spongy kind of wicket but such wickets are good because they help the bowlers as well as encourage stroke play," he said.