Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sharma return boosts under-pressure India

India's hopes of squaring the Test series with South Africa received a boost on Thursday after key paceman Ishant Sharma was cleared to return for the third and final match.

"He (Sharma) is fit, but we have yet to decide on the team combination for the match,"
India skipper Anil Kumble told reporters on Thursday.

South Africa lead 1-0 in the series following their huge victory by an innings and 90 runs in the second match in Ahmedabad. The opening Test ended in a draw in Chennai.

India's pace attack lacked sharpness in the absence of the 19-year-old Sharma, who was forced to skip the first two Tests with finger and toe injuries.

Sharma rose to prominence on the contentious recent tour of Australia where he troubled batsmen with his pace and variations. He has so far grabbed 12 wickets in five Tests.

But the hosts were still sweating over the fitness of ace leg-spinner Kumble, yet to recover completely from a groin strain.

When asked whether he felt comfortable bowling in the nets, Kumble said:
"Not really, but I am hoping to get better. I will have to wait before deciding anything. That will be the first call in the morning."

The Indian skipper said he was confident his team would bounce back after the disappointing performance in Ahmedabad, where the hosts were bundled out for 76 in the first innings.

"It was just one of those days when we lost 10 wickets in 20 overs. It does not happen every day. It was the one bad session we had in the last six years and we have put that behind us,"
said Kumble.

"We are very positive. It is not the first time that we have lost one Test in a series. We have done that in Australia and whenever we are pushed to the wall we have performed well."

India lost the first two Tests in Australia before coming back strongly to win the third in Perth. They eventually lost the four-match series 2-1.

India have not lost a Test series at home in three years and Kumble said his side was confident of maintaining the record.

"We are very proud of our home record and we would like to keep that intact. It is important for us to concentrate on this Test and get the right result to level the series,"
he said.

"We have a few plans and to ensure that we execute them. We are very confident we will be able to do that."

The pitch here is expected to favour spin, but Kumble said India needed to put in a strong all-round performance in a bid to level the series.

"We have to play good cricket whatever the conditions. I have always said that pitch, toss and weather have to be taken out of equation. The surface here is dry and will assist spinners as the match goes on,"
he said.

"Bowlers need to exploit the conditions. I think we have the ability to take 20 wickets and put runs on the board. We are prepared to do that in this Test."

South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (capt), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Paul Harris, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Jean-Paul Duminy, Monde Zondeki.

India (from): Anil Kumble (capt), Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ishant Sharma.

Umpires: Asad Rouf (PAK) and Billy Doctrove (WIS)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)

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