We are in for a fascinating game of cricket!
I have no doubt the Indian team will be trying to remember the reasons which brought it success in the past rather than dwell on the loss at Lahore. This team is mentally very strong, and they will be going into the Rawalpindi Test thinking about nothing else but a win. If this team plays to its potential, it is capable of beating any team in the world.
Both teams have selection worries. While Pakistan is looking for a replacement bowler for the injured hero of the second Test, Umar Gul, India has a problem of plenty. With Sourav Ganguly's return from injury, one of the six batsmen will have to make way. Yuvraj Singh has done wonderfully well to merit selection. It therefore looks like Aakash Chopra will be unfortunately sitting this one out. He has done well at the top of the order with Sehwag in Australia, and he will still figure in the team's plans for the future.
It is good to see competition for the batting spots in the team. It will bring out the best from all players and keep them on their toes. In the bowling department, while Pathan, Balaji and Kumble pick themselves, it will be interesting to see whether Nehra comes in for Agarkar. I am sure the team management will select the best available 11 for the match, to give the team every chance of clinching the series.
All decisions in this Test Match must be made after assessing the prevailing conditions rather than carry the cross of the last match. If the Indians feel they must bat first if they win the toss in Pindi, that is exactly what they must do. They have to shut out whatever the media, ex-cricketers or commentators are advocating and take the road that it believes is the right one. There is a lot of speculation about the state of the pitch, and the Indian team will do well to ignore this and take it as it comes. We have the team to win in all conditions, and that is all that matters.
India's strength is its batting, and if Yuvraj and Sehwag open the innings, we are in for a treat of explosive batting. The key to success will be for them to see off the new ball, and remain together at lunch. They can wrest the initiative away from Pakistan, and put them on the back foot. For that, however, they will have to blend caution with aggression.
Rahul Dravid is due for runs after failing in the first two Tests. He got a lot of runs in the ODI series, and has been the backbone of the batting line-up. It is also unwise to believe that Tendulkar or VVS Laxman could be worried about their forms.
Tendulkar scored a century in the ODIs and never looked like getting out during his 194 in the Multan Test. I do not think he would lose any sleep over failures in Lahore. The same goes for Laxman. It is laughable when people suggest that he only seems to score against Australia. If a batsman scores against the best side in the world, it should be a matter of joy rather than one of worry. Only recently, he scored an all-important One-day hundred against Pakistan when it mattered most. Ganguly's return adds more strength to the batting line-up, and also aggression on the field. India's batting line up is in good form, and far more experienced than their opponents.
The Pakistani batting has done reasonably well, with the youngsters like Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed supporting Youhana and Inzamam. However, this is a crunch match, and the pressure will tell. They collapsed under pressure in the last ODI game in Lahore, and Pakistan lack the depth of experience in their batting line-up.
In the bowling department, Irfan Pathan, Balaji and Anil Kumble have done very well for India. The Pakistani batsmen gave the impression in Lahore that they just did not want Anil Kumble to make inroads. They played with utmost caution against Kumble and took their chances against the others.
Kumble is nine wickets short of a major milestone of 400 Test wickets. The competitor that he is, he would be eager to scale the peak in this match! Both Nehra and Agarkar are experienced bowlers, and whoever is picked will add to our bowling strength. If our batsmen put up a good total, the Indian bowlers can exert pressure from both ends, and can win the match for us by picking 20 wickets.
Pakistan's bowling attack suddenly looks a bit weak. There was a lot of talk before the series began that this would be a battle between India's batting and Pakistan's bowling. However, we now have a situation where Umar Gul is not playing, and even Mohammad Sami may not play due to injury. This will be a major blow for Pakistan and will put a lot of pressure on Shoaib, who is not in the best form himself. India's bowling line-up for this match looks just as good as, if not better than the Pakistani attack.
This match is the decider, and it rarely gets bigger than this.
Guarding the guardians