Opener's slot still vacant: Ganguly

BANGALORE Sept. 6. The opener's slot is still vacant and a search is on for a wicketkeeper who can also bat, according to Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly.

"The middle order is pretty tight. Right now we need to find openers who can score consistently and wicketkeepers who can also contribute with the bat,'' Ganguly told the media at the conclusion of the six-day preparatory camp at the Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Saturday.

On wicketkeepers, Sourav said, "we have boys who have done outstanding work behind the stumps. To be a good team you need guys who can also score runs at No. 7. That was the reason behind our success in the World Cup since Rahul contributed with the bat and the gloves.''

Ganguly also hinted that Dravid's role as a wicketkeeper in one-dayers was far from over. "Dravid has kept wickets in one-day Internationals. He will be pretty much on our minds. However, he won't be keeping in the Challenger Series,'' he said.

Asked to rate Thilak Naidu, one of the contenders for the wicketkeeper's slot, Ganguly said, "it's difficult to judge someone at the nets. We have to watch him in the Challenger Series. He scored some 800 runs in the domestic season last year and he must have some calibre to do that. Rahul rates him high. We need to see what he does with the opportunity he gets.''

The dearth of quality openers remains a headache but Ganguly believes that there is room for hope.

"We now have the seven best openers in the country here. I have had a look at them but it is what they do in the middle that matters. Some of the boys have had great `A' tours like (Wasim) Jaffer, (Gautam) Gambhir and (Shiv Sunder) Das. (Virender) Sehwag and (Sanjay) Bangar are different and they have not gone on `A' tours. As for the three boys — Jaffer, Gambhir and Das — I hope that they deliver the goods in the Challenger and Irani Trophy matches,'' he said.

The Indian skipper also had words of encouragement for Sadagopan Ramesh who has been inexplicably dropped and now does not even figure in the probables list.

"Ramesh is a good player. He has a good record as an opener, but he somehow was not considered for the `A' tours of West Indies and England. I was not involved in the selection of the teams. If you ask me, we would be happy to see him back in contention since he has done well for India. John (Wright) and I have spoken to him. He says he has improved on his fitness. We hope he will get the opportunity and that it doesn't take too long for him,'' he said.

Top players for Irani Cup

Ganguly said a full strength Rest of India side would play against Mumbai in the Irani Trophy match in Chennai from September 18 to 22.

"We (the senior players) are all coming back from a break and we need to get a hit in the middle,'' he said.

However, Ganguly stressed the contenders would get their chances. "Jaffer will be turning out for Mumbai, Sehwag will be there for the Irani Trophy and Das, Gambhir and Aakash Chopra have the Challenger Series to prove their worth. There are two side games before the New Zealand series and everyone will get an opportunity,'' he said.

Ganguly also praised the quality of the fast bowlers he watched and played in the nets. "We have quality spinners, but we need good fast bowlers as well. We were highly impressed with at least 70 per cent of them (fast bowlers) here,'' he said.

Coach John Wright chipped in, "there is no doubt that some of these young boys will go on to play for India.''

On the buzz around Gujarat's Munaf Patel, rated as a genuine quick, Ganguly said, "he looked sharp in the nets, but we have to watch his match temperament, his skills under pressure like how he gets back when he is hit around the park.''

Wright added that spin remains the core strength. "I never had any doubts about that. I am sure there is enough back-up talent and what I found heartening about those bowlers who went out after a couple of matches was that they have improved their game. Spin bowling is an art and takes time to develop. I am sure a few countries would be willing to grab one or two of our spinners who are not playing in the main eleven,'' Wright said.

Pleased with facilities

On the camp, Ganguly said, "the facilities were good and though there were a number of boys, we divided the time very well and even after the nets we still had a fair amount of time for our fitness.''

Ganguly and Wright also lauded the contributions of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, who had individual sessions with the batsmen and bowlers respectively.

"I always believed that the present Indian players should learn from former Indian greats,'' Wright said, while Ganguly added, "it was great to have Kapil and Gavaskar along with John. Their advice will definitely help. Gavaskar advised me on my footwork and technique to help me emerge as a better player. I am working on it.''

On injury worries, Wright said, "Sachin is fine, while Sehwag (back injury) has recovered well. Nehra (ankle injury) still has some way to go. He bowled in the nets yesterday. Aakash Chopra (Delhi opener recovering from a knee surgery) was not hampered in his footwork and his aerobic fitness is good. Murali Kartik's is just a bruise on his right hand. He is okay.''

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