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Saturday, June 30, 2001

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Thanks to the schedule, Mohanty, Harvinder in team

By Vijay Lokapally

BULAWAYO, JUNE 29. For India, it is a match of little significance, only it gives the team an opportunity to test a few players, who have grown rusty from only watching.

For the West Indies, it will also be a test to shed some rust accumulated over the last six days of inactivity. It has been a week since Carl Hooper walked out to toss in this triangular series.

The scheduling of matches has only extended the duration of this lack-lustre tournament and privately has come in for criticism. The West Indies plays one match in a week in a tri-series; Zimbabwe plays three during the same period and faces an early exit while India emerges the team with a place in the final even before meeting the West Indies once.

With its second successive victory against Zimbabwe last Wednesday, India had ensured a title-clash and given itself the liberty to experiment with the batting and bowling options. Not often does India enjoy such privileges and having earned one here the team management was understandably handing out playing, and not training schedules, to a few players, especially Debasis Mohanty and Harvinder Singh.

It is time for Mohanty to get a feel of the ball in the middle and not just in the `nets'. The Orissa medium-pacer is often accused of being a tourist, but then it is hardly his fault if the team management continues to ignore his claims. Constant, long stints in the `nets' can spoil the rhythm of a bowler but the ever-smiling Mohanty has learnt to take all this in his stride. He treats his job in the `nets' as seriously and keeps himself fit and focussed with regular workouts in the gym.

The same applies for Harvinder, a hard-working bowler with a great desire to become a regular member. He is on a comeback trail, just as Mohanty, but with a difference. Harvinder represents the Railways, which has no selector to recognise its consistent performers and the progress of this former Punjab medium-pacer this season was marked by a fantastic resolve to make it to the national team.

Like Mohanty, even Harvinder was not given proper opportunities to showcase his talent in his first stint, but then he was not the one to give up. The background of hard work was the motivation for Harvinder to strive as a back problem laid him low. Tearful nights exposed the weaker side of this mentally strong youngster but a visit to Chennai transformed his career.

Dennis Lillee became Harvinder's inspiration and he worked on strengthening his back. Reading Lillee's book on fast bowling became a daily habit and thus began Harvinder's determined comeback. He was backed by Railways coach, Mr. Vinod Sharma during those dark days and Harvinder finally saw light at the end of the season - a place in the Indian team.

``I've worked very hard. To tell you the truth, hard work is not new to me. I enjoy my cricket and all my success is based on just hard work,'' said the talented Harvinder, who was rated very high by Javagal Srinath three years ago before the back injury made life miserable for Harvinder. Today, there are no signs of that injury and Harvinder is just keen to get going.

Harvinder and Mohanty will be given opportunities in the two matches against the West Indies. So would Reetinder Singh Sodhi, another youngster from the Punjab stable. A brilliant fielder, he is high on coach John Wright's list. His commitment and eagerness to learn has made a big impression on Wright, who prefers players willing to punish themselves in their pursuit to excel.

With V.V.S. Laxman's finger injury not yet healed, the team management was not keen to risk him in this match, or the next. ``We're looking at Laxman for the final,'' said skipper Sourav Ganguly, who is back to his chirpy self after the decent innings against Zimbabwe. The skipper, however, missed training on Friday due to a sore throat and remains a doubtful starter. India has rested Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar for this match with Harbhajan Singh likely to join them.

An unpredicatble combination

The Indians, of course, are not taking the West Indians lightly. The Carribeans can be extremely dangerous for the simple reason that it is a very unpredictable combination. One spell from Cameroon Cuffy or a sensational assault by Wavell Hinds can change the course of the match in quick time. And then there is Hooper to watch out for. The West Indian skipper remains the greatest threat because he marvels in handling the kind of attack India boasts of.

The West Indians had reason to be pleased with their batting form where Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga, Hinds, Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul helped themselves to some valuable runs. The Indians will have to keep an eye on Chanderpaul, who revels in pacing his innings and getting the others to raise their game too. His strong point is his patience, blessed as he is with the ability to pick one bad ball an over to maintain the balance.

Cuffy's parsimonious performance with the ball at the Harare Sports Club should be a grim reminder to the Indians that this gangling medium-pacer from St. Vincent can make a big difference at the start - denying the Indian openers their freedom to slam the ball around. The West Indians have a fairly decent set of medium-pacers to make it a keen contest. It may not mean much to India but the same cannot be said of the West Indies.

The teams (from):

India: Sourav Ganguly (Captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Mongia, Rahul Dravid, Hemang Badani, Virender Sehwag, Sameer Dighe, Zaheer Khan, Debasis Mohanty, Harvinder Singh, Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Harbhajan Singh.

West Indies: Carl Hooper (Captain), Daren Ganga, Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Shivanarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Ridley Jacobs, Mervyn Dillon, Cameroon Cuffy, Mahendra Nagamootoo, Reon King, Ramnaresh Sarvan, Carey Collymore and Neil McGarell.

Umpires: Messrs C. Coventry and Q. Goosen; Third umpire: Mr. J. Fenwick.

Hours of play (IST): 12.30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; 4.45 p.m. onwards.

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