Irfan Pathan likely to get a game

IN COMMAND: Rahul Dravid seems to be making a point during the practice session at Visakhapatnam. Photo: K.R. Deepak

IN COMMAND: Rahul Dravid seems to be making a point during the practice session at Visakhapatnam. Photo: K.R. Deepak  

Vijay Parthasarathy

Visakhapatnam: The new ACA-VDCA stadium is situated on the outskirts of this coastal city behind a cluster of hillocks, past giant hoardings featuring sartorially-challenged matinee idols and a little way off the dusty National Highway that connects Chennai and Kolkata. The ground has seen very little international cricket yet just the one-dayer between India and Pakistan when Dhoni cracked 148, and a three day game that pitted a Board President's side against New Zealand. But a fine venue it is, with the potential to host Tests in the future.

Rahul Dravid reckons the pitch might assist the seamers, but unlike in Rajkot the bounce is likely to be even. The outfield, green as spinach, looks quick; this match could produce the highest totals of this series, although that was what had been predicted for every game prior to this.

Kumble to sit out

Sreesanth has been rested again, while an unconvincing Kumble has been excluded from the twelve. Dravid played down the other major injury worry ahead of the game Tendulkar's back, Dravid suggested at the post-practice press conference, was only a little stiff and he was being rested keeping the World Cup in mind, purely as a precautionary measure. Irfan Pathan bowled 10 consecutive overs at the nets on Friday and, contrary to earlier indications, might get his first game of the series.

Whom he will replace under those circumstances is not clear the seemingly deflated Agarkar or the extra batsman, Dinesh Karthik? At any rate it probably won't be Sehwag, in whose defence Dravid has come out strongly. All three openers are likely to feature in the line-up and in the absence of the in-form Tendulkar, Ganguly might be asked to come in at the fall of the first wicket. Dravid can control the innings at number four though sending Dhoni up the order increasingly seems a good option, especially if wickets fall early.

Coping well

The Sri Lankans, on the other hand, have coped well physically: they reported no new injuries this fortnight and any given member of their squad is more or less match fit. Captain Mahela Jayawardene said at the press conference that the team would probably undergo a few changes, but the exact composition would be decided in the morning.

While the Cup is somewhat inevitably at the back of everyone's mind, the Sri Lankans would obviously want to focus on this match. The last time these two sides contested a full series, Sri Lanka lost 6-1; they meet next in the opening stages of the Caribbean jaunt where, needless to say, the atmosphere would be more convivial. If, sans Mutthiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, it can win the Hero Honda Cup, there is no telling what a bolstered side could achieve in the West Indies.

The teams (from): India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumara Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Russell Arnold, Farvez Mahroof, Nuwan Kulasekara, Malinga Bandara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Chamara Silva, Nuwan Zoysa, Upul Chandana.

Umpires: Simon Tauffel and Amish Saheeba. Third Umpire: Suresh Shastri.

Hours of play: 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 1.15 to end of play.

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