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Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Karachi all set for the battle of attrition

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004, 20:17 [IST]
 
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Karachi:The Indian team will like to forget their nightmarish start they had on Thursday when they take on Pakistan in the first One-day International cricket match in Karachi on Saturday as the two cricket-crazy nations are expected to come to standstill as the series gets underway.

Having travelled across the border for a full series after a gap of nearly 15 years, India's fate in the opening encounter, of what is seen as the ultimate cricketing rivalry, will hinge on the performance of their depleted bowling attack which was torn to shreds by a second string Pakistani side in the warm-up match in Lahore on Thursday.

Although the visitors have a star-studded batting line-up regarded as one of the best in the world, the bowling will be the chink in the armoury for India, hoping to create history by winning their first-ever Test series on Pakistan soil.

The shocking six-wicket defeat at the hands of Pakistan 'A', a team consisting of fringe players and some discards, will serve as a wake-up call for Sourav Ganguly and his men, basking in the glory of their successful trip to Australia recently.

The pathetic display by the Indian bowlers, many of whom are returning from niggling injuries, will be a worrying factor for the team management and coach John Wright has already taken his bowlers to task for their poor show in Lahore.

"It's a jolt for us, and we have got to sort things out. The bowlers bowled poorly and they have to improve when the series gets underway," Wright said.

Millions of cricket fans on either side of the border will be glued to their television sets to witness what promises to be a classic contest of nerves and skills.

And when rival captains Ganguly and Inzamam ul-Haq walk out for the toss at the National Stadium, it will mark a new chapter in Indo-Pak relations and the game of cricket will serve as a bridge to normalise relations between the two nuclear neighbours.

The path-breaking series, which was almost thrown into jeopardy because of the Parliament elections in India, will also witness unprecedented security arrangements to ensure that no untoward incident takes place during the 40-day tour that also has political overtones.

The Indian batsmen will be eager to maintain the form they showed against the world champions Down Under and the month-long break should have renewed their appetite for runs.

The warm-up match proved that most of the top order batsmen are in fine nick and the flat pitches in Pakistan would provide them the perfect stage to exhibit their batting might.

Star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who scored a sparkling 76 in the practice match, showed no signs of the stiff back which troubled him during the three-day camp in Kolkata and it must have come as a huge relief for the Indian team management.

The maestro, who made his debut in Pakistan as a 16-year-old in 1989, is the only player to have played in a Test match between the two countries in Pakistan. His experience will come handy for the tourists, most of whom are on their first visit across the border.

The Indians will heavily rely on their formidable batting line up to put it across the Pakistanis who have prepared well for the series with a long conditioning camp in Lahore before moving to this bustling city regarded as the commercial capital of the country.

Opener Virender Sehwag and the dependable Rahul Dravid were among the runs in the warm-up game while the stylish VVS Laxman, who had an outstanding tour of Australia, also did spend some time in the middle.

The absence of three key bowlers -- Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar -- due to injuries has weakened the Indian bowling to a great extent. Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan has just come back from a groin injury and had not played much cricket in the domestic season while fellow left-armer Ashish Nehra was also returning from a niggle.

Two other pacemen Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji were quite successful in Australia but lack the experience to be much of a threat in such batting conditions. Both the newcomers were clobbered all over the park in the warm-up match on Thurday that may have dented their confidenceto some extent.

The home team has a very good pace attack led by the tearway Shoaib Akhtar while Mohammad Sami has also improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. The two have the pace to unsettle the best of batsmen on their day and it remains to be seen whether they can make much of an impact against the Indians who are slowly shedding the tag of being vulnerable togenuine pace.

Shabbir Ahmed, who has rejoined the team after correcting his bowling action, is a doubtful starter because of an injury which could prompt the team management to let loose the highly promising Iftikhar Rao.

The 23-year-old paceman has the reputation of bowling a good line and length and can also swing the ball. Rao could prove quite handy in the shorter version of the game.

The recall of wily off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who has a very good record against India, will add a lot more variety to the bowling attack.

Although the home team has a formidable bowling attack, the batting lacks the experience though some of the youngsters at the top of the order like Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed have already made a mark at the highest level. Yousuf Youhana and captain Inzamam were the two most experienced batsmen in the team.

All the tickets for the match have been sold out well in advance, reflecting the kind of interest the series has generated.

Over 3000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure a trouble-free match at the venue where many of the visiting teams had refused to play because of security concerns.

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