Subcontinent's Ashes kicks off Monday

Published: Sunday, November 4, 2007, 3:35 [IST]
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Guwahati: With the arrival of Indian and Pakistani cricket teams here today for the first of the five match ODI series, the Indo-Pak version of the Ashes, considered as the mother of all series, begins here on Monday at the backdrop of contrasting political scenario in the two nations.

Braving emergency back home, Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik will lead his boys to the green turf of the Nehru Stadium to avenge the Twenty 20 final loss at Johannesburg, while his counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni is trying to shape a Team India for the future.

Both the teams had a light training sessions in the afternoon. Pakistan team had a longer flight from New Delhi, while Team India took a flight from Kolkata where they have had a three day conditioning camp.

Distinctly, as a home team, India has an advantage over their neighbours though the recent home series record of both the teams is not impressive.

India lost to World Champions Australia 2-4 while Pakistan were had to cope up from a 2-3 series defeat at the hands of South Africa. However, their traditional rivalry is more than enough to drive cricket fans to Guwahati.

For India all eyes will be on comeback men Virender Sehwag, who made into the team at the cost of former captain Rahul Dravid, and young Uttar Pradesh batsman Suresh Raina.

Sehwag who joined the team only yesterday at Kolkata after his father's bereavement, is a certainty in the playing eleven and will be under the scanner as the the five 'wise men' are under tremendous for dropping 'The Wall'.

''The final decision on the starting line up would be taken in the team meeting, but in all likelyhood, he would be featuring in tomorrow's match. Otherwise ther is no point in having on the bench,'' said Indian team manager Lalchand Rajput.

On the other hand, Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson is extremely focussed, saying, ''We are here with a purpose and will avenge the Twenty20 final loss.'' While India, smarting from the drubbing at the hands of Aussies, were not talking big and are just trying to downplay the absence of dependable Rahul Dravid in the team.

''We have played the last two matches against Australia very well. Though we lost the series but we ended it on a positive note by winning the last match. That was critical and we would like to carry on the tempo,'' said Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Interestingly, Indian and Pakistani cricket fans have had a roller-coaster ride this year. After a heart wrenching World Cup campaign, where both the nations failed miserably, amidst a lot of media hype and sky-high expectations, Under Dhoni India took the entire nation on a joyride by winning the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa.

The Indian team did what most cricket pundits had never imagined.

When nothing was expected from a young Indian team in an alien form of the game in South Africa after their dismal first outing in the Caribbean World Cup, the 'Men In Blue' beat South Africa, Australia and Pakistan (twice) to become the Twenty20 World Champions and take the entire nation into a frenzy.

But now that both the tournaments and with them the agony and ecstasy are history, India looks forward to host Pakistan with mixed emotions. On one hand, is the challenge and excitement of facing the arch-rivals on home soil and on the other is confusion, absurdity and inhibitions, which have suddenly gripped the nation's cricket.

Recent Indo-Pak battles have been see-saw affairs. The last time Pakistan toured India, they handed over a crushing 4-2 defeat to the home team, after conceding the first two ODIs. So, this time India would like to salvage pride at the home turf against their neighbours.

Teams (from):

Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (capt), Younis Khan (vice-capt), Salman Butt, Imran Nazir, Yasir Hameed, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad Alam, Kamran Akmal (wk), Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Rao Iftikhar Anjum.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain), Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Murali Kartik, Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar.


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