Lagaan series: Team India will need a Bhuwan to see them through
New Delhi, Mar 26: Andrew Flintoff will be eyeing a real life revenge of Captain Russell's reel life defeat plotted by Aamir Khan in the Ashutosh Gowariker direction, while his counterpart Rahul Dravid will like to script a repeat as the first ODI of the ''Lagaan series'' kicks off here on Tuesday.
From a drawn Test series, Flintoff walked away with the moral victory and his head held at a colossal 6'4'' high and it was not for nothing that coach Duncan Fletcher rates the performance next to their Ashes win.
England had huge odds and it seemed a Quit India Movement of another kind as the Ashes heroes deserted their team.
Ashley Giles did not arrive at all; regular skipper Michael Vaughan hobbled out on his troubled knee and was joined in the home-bound plane by hors de combat Simon Jones; vice captain Marcus Trescothick returned owing to 'personal reasons' and then Steve Harmison's shin injury brought his tryst with India to an abrupt end. And still England squared the series in the most emphatic manner.
Thanks to the injuries, England now has a problem of plenty while the hosts, on their part, have plenty of problems.
Forced to put up a makeshift squad, England threw in the greenhorns who overnight turned performers and the think-tank now has a wide base of choice.
In contrast, Team India woke up to find injury is not discriminating anymore and the first casualty is its opening pair.
Instead of being in Kotla, Sachin Tendulkar is in London, waiting to go under the surgeon's knife with a tear in his right shoulder, while his former clone and Delhi's own son of the soil Virender Sehwag seems falling prey to a jinx.
It was a throat infection and viral fever that kept Sehwag off his home turf during the Test match against Sri Lanka and this time, a back spasm seems hatching a conspiring. Sehwag also struggles to shed that extra girth around her fluctuating waistline and he would have to clear a fitness test today to make it to the final XI.
While that is likely to open the door for local left-hander Gautam Gambhir, the southpaw's score of five runs in yesterday's warm-up match makes it difficult to bank on him.
The middle order sports a formidable look with unflappable Rahul Dravid, in-form Mohammad Kaif, dashing Yuvraj Singh, agile Suresh Raina and the swashbuckler with coloured tresses Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Irfan Pathan's new-found batting skills also lend depth to the side and Greg Chappell maybe back in the experimentation mode and a rejig in the batting line-up is very much in the offing.
In the bowling department, India's new discover Munaf Patel, his pace notwithstanding, may have to sit out with his lack of experience going against him while S Sreesanth and RP Singh are likely to join pace colleague Irfan Pathan.
Statistics show that Anil Kumble gets high on the Kotla grasss and has fond memories of the ground that gave him a 'Perfect 10' in a Test innings. But if his knee injury forces him to skip the match, Harbhajan Singh will be asked to tie England batsmen in tangles.
Unlike Test matches, one whirlwind knock can change the course of a one dayer and therein lies the danger for India. In Flintoff and the maverick Kevin Pietersen, England has two batsmen who can take the wind out of India's sail.
Team India must be burning the midnight oil to work out strategy that can stifle Pietersen's pyrotechnique and prevent Flintoff from going ballistic.
Vikram Solanki, Paul Collingwood and in-form Ian Bell can hold the innings together but they are not yet sure of their place in the side and that would leaves them with barest time to prepare for the series opener if they are eventually picked.
England's bowling is their weakest link even though Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson and Flintoff look impressive. Even if they manage to tame the Indians in the quota overs, host batsmen are capable of running away with the match in the rest 20 overs.
With Harmison and Jones out of sight, Worcestershire seamer and part-time model Kabir Ali and Sajid Mahmood, cousin of Olympian boxer Amir Khan, will be very much in the reckoning for the final XI.
For Dravid's men, England XI's defeat in the Jaipur warm-up match can lead to complacency, as it seemed to happen in the Test series where the visitors lost the warm-up tie but had honours even in the end. So far it has not been the case of morning showing the day. Rather it has been all's well that ends well.
Squad (From): India: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid (c), Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni(wk), Irfan Pathan, Venugopal Rao, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Rudra Pratap Singh England: Andrew Flintoff, Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, Ian Blackwell, Paul Collingwood, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones (wk), Sajid Mahmood, Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Vikram Solanki, Andrew Strauss