Kumble hints at playing four bowlers

There's rain in the air in Chennai as India begin their defence of the world No. 2 Test ranking in the first Test from Wednesday.

updated: March 31, 2008 06:59 IST
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India will look to get back into the Test mode quickly as they square up against South Africa in the first of their three-match cricket series in the backdrop of the euphoria of the one-day triumph in Australia.

Although South Africa is regarded as a tough team, India's record on home turf clearly makes the hosts favourites provided the weather holds good for all the five days.

With the unseasonal depression in the Bay of Bengal persisting, the sun has been playing hide and seek. Light showers lashed the city on Monday, forcing the ground staff to give up their preparations and cover the pitch.

But the two teams are hardly worried about the weather as Indian skipper Anil Kumble made his intentions clear, saying his team would be keen to snatch a series win.

"It will be the first step to ensure that we keep the good work done in Australia. This is the beginning of a long season of Test cricket," Kumble said.

"We are all geared up, we have to go out there and ensure we do our best. We did that throughout in Australia. We are really confident."

Kumble indicated India would go into the match with seven batsmen and four bowlers.

"Playing eleven is not decided, but as of now we are looking at two (medium pacers) and two (spinners). We have Sourav (Ganguly), (Virender) Sehwag and Sachin (Tendulkar) who can fill in as bowlers. We will see. There is no injury issues to any of our players in the team," the leg-spinner said.

Indians players would have guidance of former South African opener Gary Kirsten, who would be with the team for the first time as its chief coach, a position left vacant by Greg Chappell of Australia after the World Cup debacle last year.

Kirsten and India's newly appointed mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton were once a part of the South African dressing room and the visiting side has been bombarded with queries on what it thinks of the duo's association with the rival team ever since its arrival in India.

Graeme Smith's men, some of who played with Kirsten, have cleverly ducked the matter, saying they don't really care what secrets about them may have been passed on to the Indians but clearly having Kirsten and Upton does give a psychological edge to Kumble's men.

Besides, the South Africans will be without the services of pace bowlers Andre Nel and Charl Langeveldt due to the raging quota controversy but captain Smith has tried to divert attention from the issue by pinning hopes on the available players.

South African pace attack might not possess the same intensity in the absence of Langeveldt and Nel and this will certainly help the hosts.

The M A Chidambaram stadium has been a good hunting ground for Tendulkar and the master batsman would be hoping to continue his fine form from the Australia tour.

Going by the predictions of pitch curator M Parthasarathy, the match will be result-oriented and the turf would start turning from second day onwards.

This will be to the advantage of India, which has world-class spinners in Kumble and Harbhajan Singh as compared to the visitors, already lacking services of their top bowlers.

The hot and humid Chennai weather is another nemesis that the Proteas will have to deal with but they claim that having played in the sub-continent for the past few months has prepared them well for it.

The series, being seen as a filler before the much-hyped Indian Premier League (IPL), has not generated the kind of excitement or anticipation that generally goes with cricket in India but promises to be engrossing nonetheless.

And one factor that will make it a keen contest is how the two teams conduct themselves on the field after the ICC issued guidelines urging captains to control sledging.

So far, instead of trying to have a go at each other, the rival captains have chosen to state politically correct admirations for each other's team.

The two captains are on record saying the game will take precedence over everything and their focus would be firmly on the on-field battle.

However, South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has stated that it would be hard to keep sledging out because of the competitiveness.

While Smith feels the Indians have a great mix of youth and experience, Kumble stresses the Proteas would be quite a handful despite India's formidable home record.

The last time the two sides met in India, it was in 2004-05 and the hosts came out trumps 1-0 after the first Test in Kanpur ended in a draw.

Having withstood the ferocious Australian pace assault during the tour Down Under, the Indian line up is a tested one and is not expected to have much of a problem against the Proteas.

However, the South African attack is quite capable of surprising the host batsmen with Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn leading the attack.


India: Anil Kumble (Capt), M S Dhoni (WK), Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V V S Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Piyush Chawla, Wasim Jaffer, R P Singh, S Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (Capt), Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher (WK), A B de Villiers, Jean Duminy, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Niel Mckenzie, Monde Zondeki, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Nitini, Robin Peterson, Ashwell Prince and Dale Steyn.

Umpires: Tony Hill and Asad Rauf.

Standbyes: Amish Saheba and S K Tarapore.

Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Hours of play: 9.30 am to 11.30 am, 12.10 pm to 2.10 pm, 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm.