Multan ready to host Asian powerhouses

Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2004, 1:54 [IST]
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Multan:The Indian cricket team's bid to re-write history yet again by winning their first-ever Test on Pakistani soil suffered a jolt with inspirational skipper Sourav Ganguly being ruled out of the opening match in Multan on Sunday.

Ganguly's absence due to a troubled back must have dampened the spirit of the Indians, who were on a high after recording their first-ever One-day series win in Pakistan only this week.

India have never won a Test match in Pakistan on five previous tours comprising 20 Tests. The hosts have won five while all the remaining matches were drawn.

But Ganguly's absence notwithstanding, India would be looking to carry forward their One-day success on to the Test arena with the three-match series promising to be yet another pulsating contest of nerves and skills between the two Asian powerhouses.

Rahul Dravid will stand in as the captain in Ganguly's absence, a job he had done just once in the Mohali Test against New Zealand last year, with the dashing Yuvraj Singh is expected to be drafted into the playing eleven on a track which has some grass on it.

"The first Test is always very important to start the series well because it is not always easy to come back after trailing," Dravid said while adding that Ramesh Powar had also been left out along with Ganguly and the squad had been pruned to 13.

The historic One-day series triumph will no doubt give the Indians a psychological edge over the home team which has seen its famed bowling attack struggling to find rhythm in the shorter version of the game.

Though both teams have stressed that the result of the One-day series will have no bearing on the Test matches, the large number of extras conceded by the fast bowlers and their generally lacklustre performance will leave the hosts a trifle worried as they go into the Test series.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq put up a brave front ahead of the high-profile series, saying he expected his bowlers to learn from their mistakes and put up an improved performance.

"We should have won the (One-day) series with a good margin, but we didn't grab our opportunities. But I have the confidence in my bowlers," said Inzamam who would be leading his side for the first time on his home turf where he enjoys a perfect record scoring two match-winning centuries against Bangladesh.

The Pakistan seam attack, led by speedster Shoaib Akhtar, conceded 108 wides and no-balls in the One-dayers and the home team will have to sort out the problem, though it would not have that vital a bearing in the longer version of the game.

The mood in the Indian camp was upbeat also because of the joining in of leg- spinner Anil Kumble and paceman Ajit Agarkar. The duo would certainly strengthen the bowling attack, which lacked experience in the One-day series.

Kumble, returning to the squad after an injury lay-off, has not played competitive cricket for quite some time but the ace leg-spinner would draw confidence from his record 10-wicket haul against Pakistan at home in 1999.

Having also been successful during the recent Australian series, Kumble appears to be a certainty in the playing eleven and his ability to bowl long spells will prove handy for the visitors.

The Indian batting looks well settled and the performance in Australia on fast tracks should give them a lot of confidence going into the series.

Most of the top order batsmen helped themselves to at least one big innings in the One-day series with Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman slamming centuries while Dravid has been consistent right through the series.

Aakash Chopra, who has also joined the team, too had a decent tour of Australia as an opener and will be keen to keep the good work going and cement his place in the team as the Indians have struggled to find a good opening combination for some time now.

The Pakistani batting seems to be the weak link and except for the two experienced batsmen in Inzamam and vice-captain Yousuf Youhana, the rest seemed to be struggling to find form in the One-day series. Although the team has a number of talented young batsmen like Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Taufiq Umer and Asim Kamal, it remains to be seen whether they can make much of an impact.

Unlike the tracks in the One-dayers, the pitch at the Multan Cricket Stadium, which has hosted just two matches so far, is expected to give some assistance to the bowlers. Some grass has been left on the track, which should please the fast bowlers who got a real pounding in the One-dayers. The pitch could take spin on the fourth and fifth day.


India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Aakash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, L Balaji, Murali Kartik, Ajit Agarkar.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Yasir Hameed, Taufiq Umer, Imran Farhat, Yousuf Youhana, Asim Kamal, Abdul Razzaq, Shoiab Malik, Shoaib Akhtar, Shabbir Ahmed, Mohammad Sami, Saqlain Mushtaq, Danish Kaneria, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umer Gul.

Umpires: David Shepherd and Simon Taufel. Third Umpire: Asad Rauf.

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

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