India grapple with ~~F~~ factor ahead of first tie

Published: Saturday, October 14, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Jaipur:Under-pressure India go into their first Champions Trophy match here on Sunday praying charismatic England captain Andrew Flintoff does not fire against them.

"He is an exciting cricketer to watch. It is always nice to see someone like Freddie do well -- except against India," said Dravid, whose team won just two of their last nine One-day internationals.

"I'd like to see him (Flintoff) fail as much as he can against us," the Indian captain said in a light vein.

"He had a big impact in a Test series in India and also made a huge impact in the Ashes series that has been well-documented."

Ace all-rounder Flintoff played a key role in his team's regaining the Ashes at home last year, scoring 402 runs and grabbing 24 wickets against Australia.

He then led an injury-hit England to a creditable 1-1 draw in India early this year, making 264 runs and taking 11 wickets in a three-Test series.

Speculation is rife that Flintoff will open an innings, but the Indian skipper said his team are well prepared.

"It does not really matter who open. I think Freddie could provide some exciting possibilities up the order, but we could also get him out early and that could put a lot of pressure on their middle order," he said.

"It will be interesting who England open with and I am sure they are going to try out different combinations and look to see what works best for them, but we are pretty well prepared."

The eight-team tournament kicks off here with a Group-A match between India and England. Other teams in the group are world champions Australia and a qualifier (either Sri Lanka or the West Indies).

South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and a qualifier are in Group B. The top two teams from each group advance to the semi-finals. Dravid said his spinners could test England's batsmen on a home pitch.

"The biggest challenge they (England) will probably have to deal with is how they play our spinners. How they play in these conditions and how they adapt and adjust themselves to the wickets," said the Indian skipper.

India may have thrashed England 5-1 in a home one-day series in April this year, but Dravid said the past results had no relevance to Sunday's clash.

"It's only an advantage, but has no relevance now because the day's performance matters," he said. "There is no soft start in the competition. Any of these eight teams can win the tournament. I don't think anyone will call England a soft team. I think you are making a big mistake if you do that.

"They have got some good match-winners and we are not going to take them lightly. Any of these teams can win not only this tournament, but actually go on and win the World Cup. So we are starting on a level playing field."

The Indian captain did not believe his team's recent unimpressive record was a major worry.

"What's happened in the last seven-eight games has very little relevance to what is going to happen tomorrow," he said. "Prior to that, we had a successful run against England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The fact that we had a slightly shaky start to the season is not really playing on my mind.

"I am pretty happy with the way we have trained. If we get on a roll early I think we are going to be a force to reckon with."

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