Selection; India face plenty, Pak famine

Published: Sunday, April 11, 2004, 21:15 [IST]
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Rawalpindi:Injury-hit Pakistan are struggling to pick a team and India don't know who to leave out for the crucial third and final Test in Rawalpindi.

The 50th Test match between the rivals will decide the current series after India won the opener at Multan by an innings and 52 runs and Pakistan drew level at Lahore with a nine-wicket triumph.

Hosts Pakistan are looking for a seamer to back up local hero Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami following a spate of injuries which ruled out three contenders, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul and Shabbir Ahmed.

Sami was declared fit to play after complaining of back pain two days ago, but a more serious back injury to Gul is a major blow for the hosts after his match-winning five for 31 at Lahore.

"Losing an in-form bowler like Gul has hit us hard and we do have a problem on our hands," coach Javed Miandad conceded ahead of the match starting on Tuesday.

"But someone will come along because I have always maintained that Pakistan has the best bench strength in the world when it comes to fast bowling."

The toss-up is between Fazle Akbar, a four-Test veteran with 10 wickets who returns to the squad after three years, and rookie Rao Iftikhar, a consistent performer for Rawalpindi in domestic first-class cricket.

India, meanwhile, are beset with selection problems of their own following captain Sourav Ganguly's recovery from a lower back injury which forced him out of the first two Tests.

Left-hander Yuvraj Singh, who replaced Ganguly, scored a maiden century at Lahore to make sure he will not be the one making way for the captain.

The unlucky one likely to miss out is opener Aakash Chopra, who managed just four and five in Lahore after making 42 in the Multan opener.

The dour Chopra has formed a trusted opening combination with Virender Sehwag with four century stands in the eight Tests they have been together, including a 160 at Multan.

If Chopra is omitted, either Yuvraj or young wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel will open the batting so that the seasoned middle-order of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman and Ganguly remains undisturbed.

"It is a very interesting situation," said Indian coach John Wright.

"The selectors did not pick a reserve opener for this tour and so if I cannot convince any of the big four to open, then it could be Yuvraj or Patel going in with Sehwag.

"Chopra has been great for us this season, but you need the men in form to play the decisive Test," Wright said.

The make-or-break game promises to be an enthralling one with both sides slugging it out under the hot sun on a wicket that is likely to ease out after assisting the fast bowlers on the first morning.

Of the seven Tests played at the Rawalpindi stadium, Pakistan have won three, lost two and drawn the remaining two.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Ramiz Raja said the 50th Test between the two nations will be commemorated with special souvenirs for the players. Legendary batsman Hanif Mohammad has been invited to be the chief guest.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Taufeeq Umer, Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Asim Kamal, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Malik, Rao Iftikhar, Fazle Akbar.

India (likely): Sourav Ganguly (capt), Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Laxmipathy Balaji, Ashish Nehra, Anil Kumble.

Umpires: David Shepherd (ENG), Rudi Koertzen (RSA)

TV umpire: Zamir Haider (PAK)

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)

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