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Indians have to look forward


India will be hoping for better luck in the second Test in Chennai starting on Thursday than it experienced in Bangalore where Sourav Ganguly's side did not enjoy the rub of the green with the umpires or the toss. Nor did it play well and changes are expected as Mohammed Kaif and Ajit Agarkar may be recalled in place of struggling compatriots. Sachin Tendulkar still has not batted in the nets and is about as likely to play as Mickey Mouse.

Ganguly must hope that his team is able to bat first on a firm pitch and that his batsmen can exhaust an opponent whose strategy is founded upon fast bowlers aiming at the stumps with an appropriately set field. Australia's party was chosen with two points in mind — the need to restrict the local batsmen and the desire to expose the next generation to the requirements of international cricket. So far everything has gone according to plan.

Need not despair

India has scored heavily against the Australians in the last two series. It could not last. Strong teams always come up with a fresh strategy. Now the ball is in the home team's court. India need not despair. Often it only takes an encouraging start or an inspired innings to change the mood of a team. In Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly himself, India has batsmen capable of rising to the occasion.

Alas none of these batsmen has so far found his rhythm. To my mind the delivery that removed Dravid in the first innings was playable. In the second effort he was removed by a fine delivery from Michael Kasprowicz. Sehwag was well held in the opening innings and unlucky in the second as a clear edge was missed by the umpire. The vociferous appealing seen from the Australians towards the end may have been a reaction to the noise made by Harbhajan.

Ganguly scored an inspirational hundred in the first Test of the series in Australia. But India cannot keep looking back or it will fall into the hole in front of it (goodness I am starting to sound like Navjot!).

Laxman was bamboozled by Warne in both innings and must respond by attacking him. Warne is a clever bowler. Having beaten Laxman with a beauty in the first innings he sent down a straight one in their next meeting because he knew the batsman would be covering the spin with his pads. Warne was also crafty enough to praise the umpires in the middle of the match!

Still, India's batsmen can score runs provided they remember to look forward. Moreover Harbhajan's confidence has returned and he can complicate matters for any side chasing a substantial score. He bowled superbly in the second innings in Bangalore.

Sporting gesture

Amongst the Australians, attention will be focussed upon their burliest characters, Darren Lehmann and Warne. Lehmann's recent support for Michael Clarke was sporting and generous. Ricky Ponting is expected to return for the third Test and a space must be found for him. In effect the South Australian has offered to stand down in favour of the younger man. In this professional age it is customary for players to hang on as long as possible and to be dragged away complaining about selectors or reporters, usually as a prelude to becoming one or the other, or both.

Lehmann is unlikely to repeat the erratic performances seen from him in Bangalore, where he crossed the fine line between the unorthodox and the reckless. An adroit player of spin, he may yet have a role to play in the series.

Warne is two wickets shy of the World record. Not bad for a leg-spinner raised in a time when pace was all the rage. Amidst all the controversies it is worth remembering the buzz that for so many years went around the ground whenever he marked out his run.

Overbowled in Bangalore, he may find it hard to make much of an impression. But he will break the record and in the ensuing 10 Tests will put further space between himself and his rival. Warne will enjoy the extra bounce available in Chennai but his arm is low as he pushes the ball through and he may not be able to exploit it as well as the Indians. Still, he is a crafty customer and provided he is used in shorter spells he can trouble the batsman.

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