India draw strength from positive events

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Calcutta is the heartland of India's Hindu Bengalis. Here, for the past week, people have been embroiled in their biggest annual religious event - Durga Puja or the worship of Goddess Durga, said to be a harbinger of strength and success.

Calcutta is the heartland of India's Hindu Bengalis. Here, for the past week, people have been embroiled in their biggest annual religious event - Durga Puja or the worship of Goddess Durga, said to be a harbinger of strength and success.

Durga Puja is a blend of Christmas and a Latin carnival; it involves family and friends, an exchange of presents, eating out and a mass participation in celebration and prayer. Associations and clubs in every locality erect pavilions based on current or historical themes to house clay idols of the goddess. One such construction is of Barisa Players' Corner, where the India captain, Sourav Ganguly, began life as a cricketer. Now himself a demigod in the eyes of his fellow Bengalis, he was given the honour of lighting the lamps, an integral part of the rituals.

In a country where there is no dearth of pundits, the arguments are that India would have won the recently drawn Second Test in Madras, but for a torrential downpour which ruined the final day. Wickets in the sub-continent this time of the year do not crack or crumble (due to greater humidity) like they do in winter, when the climate is drier.

On a TV phone-in programme, many callers hoped Ganguly would receive Durga's blessings to square the series in the Third Test beginning on Tuesday in Nagpur. The captain smiled in appreciation, for he is a self-confessed believer.

But Ganguly was more circumspect. He assessed, as did his counterpart, Adam Gilchrist, that both teams had an even chance.

Meanwhile, rather intriguing reports have come from central India that a green-top lies in wait for the two teams. This, if true, would be playing into the hands of Glenn McGrath and company. It would be somewhat alarming for the Indians, who, despite having coped impressively with similar conditions abroad, appear to be apprehensive about seamer-friendly pitches at present. Indeed, one suspects that after John Wright, India's coach from New Zealand, and Ganguly's arrival, a particular mower will be rapidly activated.

Nagpur has historically been a good batting surface. This has sometimes proved unenviable for spinners, given the ground's smaller outfield, as compared to other Indian Test centres. But the Indians have a slight psychological advantage, since the Harbhajan Singh-Anil Kumble double act has reaped a harvest of 32 scalps in the first two Tests.

The former has cast a spell with his off-spin ever since he turned around a series against the Aussies three years ago. He did not let this initiative slip by bagging 11 wickets in the First Test.

He has now been joined by Kumble. This wrist spinner had a battling time of it in Australia last winter, with his accuracy deserting him. So, his sudden return to his very best in Madras - where he collected 13 wickets - was divine intervention for Ganguly in advance for Durga.

However, the gluttonous Rahul Dravid has been off the boil, VVS Laxman, bane of the Aussies, has hardly been "Very Very Special" and Ganguly too has disappointed. Only Virender Sehwag, with his 155 in Madras last week, has redeemed himself. Things can surely only improve for the batsmen who, no thanks to the Indian Board, took on the world champions without any first-class matches under their belts since April.

There is also hope however, after Sachin Tendulkar, sporting a lighter bat and support near his left arm, thrilled onlookers with a flurry of shots in Bombay on Friday. He has been passed fit and will be required not only for his supreme batting skills, but also his off-spin bowling.

While the hosts retreated to their homes to take in the seasonal fervour, the visitors dispersed to Goa, Bombay and Singapore for rest and further introspection. As Damien Martyn demonstrated with an immaculate hundred in the Second Test, there is no substitute to patience and technique - to playing the ball late and using the wrists - when tackling the likes of Singh and Kumble. An Australian triumph in India after 35 years may only be fulfilled if the others follow suit.

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