Sachin, Akhtar set to spice up series

Published: Sunday, November 4, 2007, 12:04 [IST]
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New Delhi: If controversial Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar hopes to redeem his image on the current Indian tour, he will first have to conquer Sachin Tendulkar.

Chucking allegations, a drug-ban, indiscipline and injuries have dogged the mercurial paceman ever since his international debut in 1997. But when he is battle-ready, he can make life miserable for batsmen.

Akhtar's duels with Tendulkar have caught the fancy of fans on both sides of the border ever since his first-ball dismissal of the master batsman in a Test match in Kolkata in 1999.

Their duel was the talking point during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Tendulkar won that battle with a bold 98 off 75 balls to set up his team's victory at Centurion.

Tendulkar later described the innings as one of the highlights of his record-breaking one-day career.

But Akhtar has not always been a punchbag for the Indians.

His 34 wickets in 23 one-dayers against the arch-rivals means he remains a constant threat. He has also grabbed 19 wickets in seven Tests against India.

Tendulkar has often dominated the Pakistani attack with rich strokeplay, having scored 2,122 runs in 61 one-dayers with five centuries and 918 runs in 16 Tests with two hundreds.

Pakistan will play five one-dayers on the current tour, with the first starting in Guwahati on Monday. The teams will then clash in a three-Test series beginning on November 22.

Akhtar is known as much for his mood swings as for hurling down thunderbolts and they have often proved his undoing in a career spanning nearly a decade.

He recently served a 13-match ban, primarily for striking team-mate Mohammad Asif with a bat ahead of the inaugural Twenty20 world championships in South Africa in September.

Akhtar has been placed on probation for two years, meaning he could be suspended for life if he again breaches the players' code of conduct.

He returned to international cricket in the decisive fifth and final one-dayer against South Africa at home last month, only to prove he could be a batsmen's nightmare when on song.

His four-wicket burst nearly set up his team's win before the batsmen messed it up chasing a 234-run target at Lahore. Pakistan lost the series 3-2, but Akhtar won many a heart on his comeback.

He is now on a mission.

"I promise I will do my best and give my full effort on the tour of India to help my team win both the one-day and Test series," said Akhtar.

"I have missed a lot of cricket due to injuries and other reasons but now I want to focus on my game. This may be my last tour so I must do something special for the fans in India so that they remember me in a good way."

He needs to keep Tendulkar silent first if he wants to make this tour a memorable one for him.

India have found talented youngsters in Robin Uthappa, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, but still depend on Tendulkar for setting or successfully chasing a stiff target.

Tendulkar may not be as explosive a batsman as he was a decade ago, but he still has the shots to test any attack. He also has an uncanny knack of finding gaps where none appears to exist.

The Indian is the world's leading scorer in one-dayers with 15,703 runs in 402 matches and a record 41 centuries.

It promises to be an engrossing contest when he faces Akhtar, one of the fastest pacemen in the world.

Read more about: pakistan, odi series, akhtar, tendulkar
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