Team India eye perfect start amidst imbroglios

Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Colombo:The Men in Blue got the huge, 35-year-old monkey off their back and drowned it in the waters of the Caribbean island last month. And to exorcise another ghost, now in the emerald isle, they will be eyeing a perfect start against Sri Lanka in the Unitech Cup tri-series here tomorrow.

But Rahul Dravid is well aware of the fact that beating the West Indies, past its pomp, in the Test series and taming a resurgent, revenge-thirsty Lankan lion at its den are two different propositions altogether. No wonder The Wall wasn't game for a premature discussion on India's prospect of choking again in the final.

''First we have to play some good cricket, and get to the final,'' he said in the captains' press conference here before the tournament.

Despite their first Test series win in the West Indies in more than three decades, the tour did little good to India's boating and gloating of being the second best ODI side. A 1-4 defeat in the five-match series against a politics-plagued, bickering-besotted West Indies pricked the balloon and forced India to do a reality check.

And the star-studded line-up hardly looked threatening in their practice match against a Sri Lankan A side at the Colts Cricket Club Ground on Saturday. It was a half-century from Yuvraj Singh and some defiant batting from the lower order that spared India the blushes.

Statistics say India lost three out of every four matches in Sri Lanka in the last one decade and the Men in Blue have failed to win a final in the islands since 1998.

Like West Indies, here too Dravid and his comrades-in-arms would chase history hoping to break the jinx but their hostile hosts would pose the biggest problem for them. Dravid too has some poor memories of the islands and standing in for Sourav Ganguly, he could not succeed in his three attempts to lead the side to victory.

Team India is not short on preparation and the cricketers swapped their flannels and pyjamas for olive green fatigue to train under para-military and paratrooper personnel. It did give them a break from the routine stuff but without success, it would be considered yet another cheap gimmick.

Meanwhile, the think-tank just can't make up its mind on Sachin Tendulkar's fitness. While Dravid and physio John Gloster have no doubt that the Little Champion is match-fit, coach Greg Chappell is not so confident and is openly apprehensive.

The Indian batting line-up, teeming with star stroke-players, is good enough to send shivers down the rival bowlers's spine but adapting to the conditions here would be crucial. Dravid is already apprehensive about facing Muttiah Muralitharan under lights and he has advised his teammates not to be complacent.

In fact, India had lost the ODI series in the West Indies much before a single ball was bowled as the batsmen conspicuously failed to read the pitch and improvise accordingly.

On their part, Sri Lanka is smarting from the 1-6 defeat during their Indian tour and they would be more than eager to return the compliment and can't have a better occasion.

The Lankans are going to persist with Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga in the opening slot, followed by batting mainstay and captain Mahela Jayawardene, followed by the other Mr Reliable, Kumar Sangakkara.

And the same seriousness was reflected during Sri Lanka's practice session at the Sinhalese Sports Club this morning. Under Jayawardene's inspiring captaincy, the side has seen sort of a resurgence and weather permitting, they would go all out tomorrow hoping to keep the momentum.

Squads (From):

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Ajit Agarkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicket-keeper), Harbhajan Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Dinesh Mongia, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Ramesh Powar, Suresh Raina, RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Malinga Bandara, Tilakratne Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Sanath Jayasuriya, Prasanna Jayawardene (wicket-keeper), Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ruchira Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper), Upul Tharanga, Chaminda Vaas

Match Refree: Chris Broad

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