Chilly weather holds the key in Pakistan

Written by: Sukhesh V
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006, 16:00 [IST]
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With barely a few hours left for the start of the high-voltage Indo-Pak series, cricket fans across the globe are pondering too much over assessing the arsenal that Messer's Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rahul Dravid have at their disposal. Both the teams are working hard to win the mind-game, which is an essential ingredient for success in a series where the teams are evenly matched with Pakistan playing the 'Shoaib Akthar' card and the Indians showcasing the 'Flexibility theory'.

We have been hearing a lot about Pakistan's green top pitches and the 'Shoaib Akthar factor' as the part of pre-tour mind game. Most of the pundits feel that Pak pitches will spell doomsday for India. But former cricketing great Gavaskar's thinks differently. "The tracks in the sub continent are the same. In fact, it would suit the Indian bowlers, since they may be green on the top but were soft underneath. These were unlike pitches in Australia where they had green tops but were hard below."

Even though Pakistan is keen on making hard pitches, the chilly weather in the country does not allow them to do so. "We are trying our level best but the foggy weather and wet conditions are not ideal for bouncy tracks, because a pitch takes time to dry," curator Agha Zahid was quoted as saying earlier this month. The Pakistani cities of Lahore and Faisalabad, where the first two Tests are being staged, have been in the grip of extreme winter and it adversely affects Pakistan's pitch preparation plan. But, the curator has pinned his hopes on Karachi, the venue of the last Test. "clear weather in Karachi will help us prepare a suitable pitch," said the curator.

Pakistanis are under the illusion that Indian batsmen would fumble on the greenish tracks in the country and all cricket experts feel that Shoaib Akthar would be the deciding factor. He is a very dangerous bowler indeed. The line and length he bowled in the home series against England series was immaculate. But it would be his well-disguised slow balls than the quick ones that would spell doom for Indian. He mixes up his slower deliveries well with faster ones. It would be very difficult to make out such deliveries as and when he does it randomly and wisely. He was successful against England with these tactics and now it's India's turn. So, be careful Indians.. Do not get betrayed!

Apart from Akthar, Rana Naved ul-Hassan and Mohammed Sami form the base of Pakistan's pace attack. Rana had played a good supportive role to Akthar in the series win against England. Though Sami was a bit off colour in the England series there is no doubt about his ability. Pakistan has every reason to believe that a match winning performance is due from him.

But Team India's morale is on a high thanks to Generation Next. "Hit us if you can" challenge by India's latest pin-up boy M S Dhoni says a lot. In a mind game like cricket, the mindset of the players influences the outcome of the game in many ways. India's star-studded batting line-up is surely a nightmare for any opposition in the world and Pakistan is no exception. Though, all the batsmen are virtually match-winners, it is Sehwag, who stands out. The memories of Sehwag's epic 309 at Multan in 2004 would be still haunting Pakistanis. As far as Sehwag's match winning ability is considered, Indian coach Chappell's words says it all, "Sehwag can change the course of a match with the ease of Moses parting the Red Sea."

But Chappell will have to sweat a lot while finalising the playing XI. Team management has a problem of plenty with both Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer notching up half-centuries in the lead up match against Pakistan 'A'. India can choose only one opener out of these two. Despite being inconsistent, experience might tilt the scale in favour of Gambhir. But problems do not end there.

On form and attitude, Yuvraj Singh deserves a place in the playing eleven XI. Then where will they accommodate Sourav Ganguly, the batsman who can also bowl usefully in Pakistani conditions? The selectors said they included Sourav in the team because of his experience. If Ganguly is not in the playing XI, how can they make use of his experience? Ganguly's absence from the playing XI would create fissures not only in the dressing room, but also outside.

To sort out this issue, the team management is left with two options. Drop Yuvraj and take Sourav or drop Gambhir and move either Yuvraj, Laxman or Ganguly to partner Sehwag at top. Selectors would have to choose one out of these two. But, Ganguly would be under tremendous pressure to perform. If he fails in Pakistan, it would be the end of the road for him.

The greatest strength of Pakistan is their captain. Unlike India's last tour to Pakistan, Inzamam is a more matured and composed captain, especially after a successful series against Ashes winning England. His ability to handle the pressure is a clear advantage Pakistan does have. His counterpart, The Wall is also in good frame of mind after the series win against Sri Lanka and his Mr Cool approach would benefit India as well. At the end of the day there would be only one winner, the team which handles the pressure better.

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