WC-driven 'Blue Brigades' launch battle cry

Published: Wednesday, February 7, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Kolkata:World Cup is the X-factor driving India-Sri Lanka as they launch into offensive in the four-match ODI series commencing here tomorrow trying to quick-fix a winning combination and keep the momentum going heading into the Caribbean.

Chairman of National Selection Committee Dilip Vengsarkar minced no words when he said he wanted to field his best eleven for the series to help them prepare for the World Cup and keep the winning streak undisturbed.

Tom Moody, Sri Lanka's coach, has said his team was pretty sure of the brand of cricket they want to play at the World Cup in the Caribbean next month and the Indian tour would be used to boost their confidence.

''There is nothing that we have to work on in India. We have crystallized in our minds the brand of cricket we want to play. What we want to get out of India foremost is to have a successful tour and go to the World Cup with the momentum of a few wins under our belts,'' said Moody.

As the teams prepare for the dress rehearsal to the World Cup the opposite captains will have their work cut out for the series. There is a certain urgency in getting about the job and a military precision with which the preparations are being monitored and faults eliminated as both ready for the slugfest with an eye on the World Cup.

The Cup dreams have added that extra bit of urgency to the teams - the huddles look more compact, the camaraderie looks bloated and the nets livelier.

Rahul Dravid, after the tremendous success against Sri Lanka in the last home series when they defeated the emerald islanders in a tennis match like score of 6-1, would certainly want to hold sway.

Dravid has repeatedly said that he was unwilling to take any risk before the world Cup and would like to see the series as a stage to fix the winning combination. Virender Sehwag and Munaf Patel are making a comeback in this series. Sehwag was rested after a string of poor performance and Munaf is recovering from an ankle injury.

While a much slimmer and sharper Sehwag looked ready to deliver and is almost sure of getting a berth, things are not so sure for Munaf. But the bowler would be played sometime during the series to test his spunk and form.

Sourav Ganguly looked set to open and it may be Sehwag at the other end tomorrow at Eden. In that case the reinvented Robin Uthappa will have to sit out in spite of his blazing 70 of 40 balls against the West Indies. Ganguly, who does not have a tall score at his home ground, wants to turn the tide here tomorrow. ''A century would just be fine. I know I have not got big scores here,'' he said.

With Yuvraj Singh coming back from a knee injury certainly in the scheme of things, it seems that India might go in with six batsmen and four bowlers.

There were talks of resting Sachin Tendulkar. But keeping the local sentiments in mind the Mumbaikar is all-eager to take to the field. Dravid would certainly like to lead the charge. So it boils down to whether India will play three pacers and a spinner, in which case Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan, who can be drafted in as a bowling all-rounder, are a surety, unless the think tank decides to rest either of the former two for Munaf.

The toss-up between Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will be decided in the last minute in that case, with the Turbanator certainly having an edge on this ground.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan side has moved on from the time when they were thrashed by India. And they would want to set the record straight here.

''It is also a good opportunity for individuals to fine tune their game whether it be with the bat or the ball. There is nothing that we have to work on in India other than winning,'' said Moody.

It was after a dismal tour of India at the end of 2005 that the wheel of fortune started to turn for Sri Lanka, but Mahela Jayawardene has not quiet forgotten the pain of the humiliation.

''The focus might be on the World Cup but what we are trying to refocus is that India is a place that we haven't performed well recently. We want to rectify that and put it right and perform well.

If we do that it will be good for us, in terms of confidence, going into the World Cup,'' Jayawardene had said recently.

A losing scoreline of 2-0 in Tests and 6-1 in the ODIs and their failure to qualify for a place in the ICC Champions trophy semi-finals have made Jayawardene's boys determined to put the record straight. ''India actually started our revival. Today we are in a different situation, consistently performing,'' said Jayawardene.

In the 14 months that have elapsed since the tour to India, Sri Lanka have won 20 of their 40 one-day internationals (17 losses and 3 no-results) and six out of 11 Tests (3 losses, 2 draws). What is so creditable about this record is that 85 per cent of these matches have been played overseas and Sri Lanka has a 58 per cent win record.

Sanath Jayasurya has regained his vintage form and Marvan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakara and Jayawardane are in fine flow. This settles the batting worries. The tough series in New Zealand saw the batters get a fair success under tough conditions.

''We are stronger in bowling than when I first came into the team in 1997. The improvement has been in the pace department. We've always had spinners who bowled well in subcontinent conditions but the problem we had when we went abroad was we never had attacking options because we used to bowl our spinners even on seaming conditions,'' Jayawardane said.

With the likes of Lasith Malinga coming of age, Sri Lanka certainly have the arsenal packed in their bowling department.

Bowling at 150kmph consistently he has given the Lankan a bowling a much-needed boost.

Resting Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chamara Kapugedera and Ruchira Perera for the Indian tour has given the opportunity for experienced hands like Russel Arnold, Upul Chandana and Nuwan Zoysa to show what they are capable of.

The Eden promises a hard wicket with fair pace and loads of runs and if the Marauder from Matara gets going and the Sachin of Najafgarh plays it up, a run feast is on the cards. The dew will not be a factor even under the flood-lights, though the weather forecast of a generally cloudy sky will have a few hearts fluttering.

A packed stadium, two steely-jawed teams fighting out for early supremacy and finding the rhythm for World Cup and an electric atmosphere is just the correct recipe for a One Day International.

And Eden Gardens is being set up for one tomorrow.


India: Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar (vice-capt), Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Zaheer Khan, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, S Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel and Dinesh Karthik (standby wk). Greg Chappell (coach)

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardane (captain), Kumar Sangakkara (vice-capt, wk), Marvan Atapattu, Russell Arnold, Upul Chandana, Sanath Jayasurya, Tilakratne Dilshan, C Bandara, Dilhara Fernando, K Kulasekhara, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, L P Silva, Nuwan Zoysa and W Tharanga. Tom Moody (coach)


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