SPORT

Murali, a vital cog in our fortune wheel

Irrespective of its recent record against us in the limited version of the game, I think it would be fair to say that India starts this Videocon Cup Test series as favourite, taking such factors as home soil advantage and India's track record into account. I have to add that there is obviously a considerable amount of stress within the team at the moment, which, from a coach's point of view, is hardly ideal. A coach always likes his team to focus completely on the game at hand, and tension within the squad can be a potential distraction.

However, we are not really bothered about that because as always, our aim is to focus on our game. And we have no distractions that threaten to keep us from doing that. After all, there is the possibility that when a team is not entirely at peace with itself, the opposition may get the better of it by sticking to a certain gameplan.

The Murali factor

As always over the past decade, a vital part of that gameplan will be Muttiah Muralitharan. He has been our leading strike bowler for a long, long time, and his unbelievable Test record — 568 wickets from 96 Tests at an average of 22.23 — means that his role always be a major one. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that Murali can only be as effective as the other bowlers allow him to be, and we would do well not to pin all our hopes on him as far as wicket-taking goes.

Another crucial player for us is, of course, Kumara Sangakkara, whose all-round abilities get better by the day. The best thing about Kumara is that he thrives under pressure and relishes challenge, which means that he quite enjoys having to shoulder the burden of expectations that many place on him. So he wouldn't think twice about keeping all day, perhaps, and immediately open the batting if required. That he is a wise enough player to take his place anywhere in the top six is a bonus.

The one familiar face missing from our ranks is, of course, that of Sanath Jayasuriya. The selectors took the view that he hadn't done enough to justify a place in the side, which is an understandable point of view since everyone is accountable when it comes to performance. While we will surely miss a player of such vast experience, I think we have in Avishka Gunawardene and Upul Tharanga two youngsters who are ready to step up to the plate.

As for the Indians, a significant inclusion has been Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who produced such brilliant innings against us in the one-dayers. However, as the series against South Africa showed, he can be contained with certain types of bowling, and a Test match allows far more scope in terms of bowling variations and field placements than a one-day game. So we would rather like him to come out swinging and see what we can do.

Wicket at Chennai

Finally, of course, I have to say a word about the Chennai weather. It hasn't rained all day on Thursday and the wind has picked up, which seems promising, but rain over the past few weeks has meant that the pitch has had to be kept under covers. From the look of things, it seems extremely dry and ought to take a fair bit of turn. Since it is the one-day pitch, it hasn't been used in quite a while, so a lot of time has gone into its preparation. Nevertheless, it is not the wicket we had been expecting to play a Test on.

For all that, we will only finalise our team on Friday morning, and will also keep in mind the recent trend of Tests finishing in less than five days. The emphasis these days is on scoring at a quick pace, sometimes at more than four an over, to have enough time to give the bowlers a go. Time will tell if the Chennai Test follows that pattern. (Gameplan)