Mother of all contests in waiting

Published: Monday, April 12, 2004, 19:23 [IST]
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Rawalpindi: The Indian team's character and temperament will be tested to the hilt when they take on arch rivals Pakistan in the series-deciding third and final cricket Test staring in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, with their perennial problem of a stable opening pair still dogging them and some of the top batsmen struggling with their form.

With the the three-match series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, India's quest for a historic series triumph on Pakistani soil will largely depend on their star-studded batting line up which let the team down in Lahore, allowing the hosts to level the series.

Both the teams will be under tremendous pressure as they go into what promises to be a nerve-wracking showdown on a grassy track at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, hosting the 50th Test match between the traditional rivals. The Indians are still undecided about their opening combination, a problem which has cropped up time and again, and it appears that a brand new pair will be fielded against the home team which also has its share of worries in the pace bowling department with a few key bowlers injured.

The visitors are contemplating to send the in-form Yuvraj Singh as Virender Sehwag's opening partner for the crucial match, leaving out specialist opener Aakash Chopra who failed in both the innings of the Lahore Test which India lost by nine wickets.

The left-handed Yuvraj, who replaced injured Sourav Ganguly in the team in the first two Tests, has been in good form with scores of 59, 112 and 12 which has put the team management in a selection dilemma.

With Ganguly, who sat out the first two matches with a lower back injury, returning to captain the team again, the only way to accommodate the dashing Yuvraj was to make him open the innings, a move which is unlikely to get the backing of the purists.

Yuvraj, who has opened for Punjab in only a few matches, and Sehwag are both attacking batsmen and fielding two stroke-makers as openers could be a big gamble on a lively track which is expected to provide help to the fast bowlers in the initial stages.

The team think tank, which has held discussions to sort out the opening problem, has kept all the options open till now, including persisting with Chopra who had done a decent job during the recent tour of Australia.

"It is a good problem to have, an interesting problem. We all know that Yuvraj is very talented, his efforts have been outstanding. He scored a 59 and a century in the two Tests. But at the same time we know the importance of having a specialist opener," Indian team coach John Wright said.

"The option of continuing with the same pair is also there. That should be considered, as they have done well as a pair. The opening pair play a key role in the batting order, going away from the present combination will be difficult. The openers have to play out the entire first session and see off the new ball. Anyone can have two failures," Wright said.

The visitors may also alter their bowling attack a little bit for the decider. While the two young pacers Irfan Pathan and L Balaji and seasoned leg spinner Anil Kumble were certainties, the third pacer's slot would be a toss-up between Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra.

Left-arm seamer Nehra, who was recalled into the sqaud in place of injured pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, was not considered for the last match because he had not bowled enough since recovering from the split in his webbing. Agarkar had a disappointing match as a bowler but did reasonably well with the bat in the second innings.

On the otherhand, the injuries to Lahore hero Umar Gul, who claimed a career-best five wicket haul, and Shabbir Ahmed were a big setback for Pakistan who will be desperate to maintain their track record at home against India.

The home team has included pace bowlers Rao Iftikar Anjum, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan, Fazle Akbar and Abdur Rauf in their 17-member squad and it remains to be seen who will make it to the playing eleven.

The Indian batting was a big disappointment in the Lahore Test and the batsmen will have to pull their socks up in the decider which would be played on a track designed to suit the home team bowlers.

The dependable Rahul Dravid and wrist artiste VVS Laxman have not been able to get big scores in the series till now and both of them would be keen to end the series with more significant contributions.

Sehwag, who created history by becoming the first Indian to hit a triple century in the first Test in Multan, has been in fine nick and the Indians would be hoping for another epic knock from the flamboyant opener who is capable of tearing any bowling attack to shreds.

Batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj have centuries under their belt but they need to fire when it matters most.

The Pakistani batting will mainly depend on their in-form captain Inzamam-ul-Haq who has already slammed three centuries - two in the One-day series and one in the second Test - and the Indian bowlers will have to dismiss him early to give their team a chance.

India: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Rahul Dravid (vice-capt),Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra, Yuvraj Singh, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, L Balaji, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Murali Kartik.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Imran Farhat, Taufiq Umar, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Asim Kamal, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria, Rana Naveed-ul Hasan, Imran Nazir, Fazle Akbar, Rao iftikar Anjum, Abdur Rauf, Misbah-ul-Haq.

Selection; India face plenty, Pak famine

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