Brighton. Just the name brings a smile to the face. It definitely put a big yahoo across the Indian squad, which arrived to this sun-drenched seaside town on Wednesday from the rainy, grey climes of London. The salubrious surroundings seemed to have had an instant positive effect on the visitors, who were perky and active throughout the three-and-a-half hour long optional training session at the tiny Hove ground.
News of Gautam Gambhir's recovery also brightened the mood, and the batsmen were back swinging their arms with gusto and clearing the boundaries effortlessly; a new-look bowling attack seemed eager and fresh; there was more agility in fielding drills.
India needed the relative anonymity of Brighton to forget the torment of the past month. A new journey has started, involving a format at which they are world champions. Perhaps the aura of the hard-won crown will boost them. Perhaps the good memories will serve well to keep them confident for the next three weeks when they wrestle with England in a solitary Twenty20 international followed by a five-match one-day series.
Yet again the Indians cannot be complacent. If anything the 4-0 Test series defeat taught them that if you do not prepare well, do not chalk out plans in advance, there is an imminent danger of falling flat on your face. In the end India ran out of excuses for their sorry defeats in four consecutive Tests in the last five weeks. All the more reason then that the Indians would pay more respect to Sussex in their next tour match, a 50-over contest.
Last July, Sussex got the better of a full-strength Bangladesh side, registering a 149-run victory. India, too, have lost at the County Ground, by four wickets at the 1999 World Cup against South Africa.
Though Sussex lost to Kent by 14 runs in a closely-fought home CB40 match on Tuesday night, their coach Marc Robinson said a good-strength team would take the field against the Indians.
"We have nothing to lose," Robinson said, considering that this is only a tour match where no points are lost. If anything, he reckoned, his players could earn brownie points by performing against a top side like India. "We are playing the world champions, so the players can inspire themselves by doing well and also make a name as there will be a lot attention on the match," Robinson said.
According to Robinson, the Hove pitch is bound to take turn and has reasonable bounce. Though he was non-committal about Wayne Parnell, the South African left-arm quick and Sharks' overseas signing for the season, playing tomorrow, Monty Panesar is expected to play in the match. Indeed, Parnell's name was not on the official team list sent out late on Wednesday.
As for the Indians, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Gambhir, who did not attend the nets today in addition to Ajinkya Rahane and Varun Aaron who are yet to depart India, are likely to sit out. If there is anything to fret about it is the unavailability of Gambhir, who injured his head while attempting a catch back-pedalling in the outfield on the third day afternoon of the Oval Test. Gambhir underwent two MRI scans, neither of which revealed anything untoward. "All his scans have come alright. He did not come to the nets today as a precautionary measure," said Shivlal Yadav, the Indian team manager for the one-day leg of the tour.
Gambhir was resting at the team hotel and is likely to sit out tomorrow and also the day-night match against Kent the day after.
During his media conference after the Oval defeat, Indian captain MS Dhoni had said that Gambhir was finding it hard to take field after experiencing dizziness. "He had blurred vision. I don't know the technical term for it but he was finding it quite tough to spot the ball." Gambhir made 10 and 3 in the fourth Test, finishing the series with 102 runs in six innings.
In the absence of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, India need Gambhir to regain peak fitness and start scoring again if they want to establish a stable platform upfront.
If Gambhir does not play, then Parthiv Patel is expected to open along with Tendulkar. Parthiv, along with the rest of the batting order comprising Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni, had a couple of good batting sessions and could not resist the temptation to hit the ball out of a ground which is half the size of his native Motera.
Meanwhile Praveen Kumar, who sat out the Oval Test due to ankle injury, was back to fitness and bowled without any strain. Praveen will lead the bowling attack in the absence of Zaheer. Munaf Patel and R Vinay Kumar could complete the fast bowling line-up with Ravichandran Ashwin playing as a specialist spinner.