India eye series win in happy hunting ground

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2007, 3:35 [IST]
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Gwalior: Having taken a 2-1 lead after notching up a comprehensive win in the third game, a confident India would look to clinch the five-match series when they take on Pakistan in the fourth one-dayer here at the Capt Roop Singh Stadium on Thursday.

It is advantage India, psychologically, after Kanpur and the win has also ironed out some of the chinks in the bowling department though captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had said he would press for further improvement on this area and on the fielding which has been ordinary so far.

On the other hand, Pakistan are in a must-win situation 'morrow though they could open the history books and see that when they toured India last time in 2005 they came back from 0-2 down to win the six-match series 4-2.

India can also go back to pages of history and find that the Capt Roop Singh Stadium has been a happy a hunting ground for them, having won six of the eight games played which they have played so far here since 1988, the last time being the easy 37-run win against world champions Australia in the TVS Cup in October 2003.

A win for India tomorrow will also erase the memories of the 2005 loss at home against the same opponents besides recording an ODI series victory after reverses in England and at home against Australia.

For Dhoni, it would be a special occasion, of having led India for the first time to a series victory.

The two sides have not played against each other in this venue though the latter have won the only game they played here, against Sri Lanka in the Independence Cup in May 1997 by 30 runs.

At Kanpur it was a team effort, the bowlers did not disappoint the cricket fans after the batsmen, led by Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni, had set up the match.

Traditionally, the venue has been a batting paradise and the Indian batting line-up looked formidable while their Pakistani counterparts looked shaky.

The two senior most among the Indians - Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly - would want to continue from where they left the last time they played at this venue.

Ganguly, in the only match he played here in 1999, had scored a majestic 153 against New Zealand which India won with the Prince of Kolkata winning the man-of-the-match. And he would want to go all cylinders blazing for a ton which had not come from his willow for ages, since against Kenya in Durban in 2003 World Cup.

Tendulkar, who has featured in seven of the eight matches India played here, scored a hundred in the hosts' victory against Australia in 2003 though he has struggled on this ground, aggregating 221 from the seven matches. It is a matter of time that the master blaster would eventually score his increasingly difficult-looking 42nd century but the Gwalior crowd would turn in large numbers expecting a repeat of 2003.

Dhoni and Yuvraj are in their prime form and their match-deciding partnership at Kanpur and understanding between the two must have done a world of good to their confidence. And, given that they are the captain and vice-captain they would have to ensure that the IndianOil Cup is India's.

Meanwhile, Virender Sehwag could be left out once again as India would most likely go with five specialist bowlers with two spinners in the traditionally batting pitch. The only option he could be in would be at the cost of not-so-impressive Murali Kartik with the Delhi batsman and Yuvraj doing the fifth bowlers job along with Tendulkar or Ganguly.

Robin Uthappa would most likely be persisted with as he has got little chance to show his mettle, mostly coming late in the innings.

Among the bowlers, RP Singh looked the best among Indian attack with five wickets from the series so far while Irfan Pathan did a good job at Kanpur to cut short dangerous Shahid Afridi though both of them conceded runs more than desired.

But one man who would be looking to repeat his exploits would be the experienced hand Zaheer Khan who has not done anything spectacular so far. Last time at this ground, he snared three Australian wickets in India's victory. A special performance from the seasoned campaigner is due in the series and it could be his day on Thursday.

For Pakistan, 'morrow is a must win situation but a crisis of sorts on the wicket-keeper's slot has come at a wrong time -- during a high-profile series. Kamran Akmal has been on the firing line for the last 18 months and he has aggravated his hand injury.

Akmal has dropped catches regularly against England and South Africa, and in this series he has dropped four catches in the three matches so far including a reprieve to Ganguly off the first ball of the India innings off Shoaib Akhtar at Kanpur.

It will be interesting to see what the Pakistan team management has to do with young Sarfraz Ahmed who was sent as a 'back-up' to Akmal. The team management though has said that if Akmal recovers in time, which will be known only after a fitness test, he would be in the playing XI on Thursday.

If Akmal does not recover, Pakistan, though, have the option of including Yasir Hameed as opener and gave him the keeper's glove also since he had earlier kept wickets in domestic cricket if they do not want the 19-year-old Ahmed make debut in the pressure-cooker situation in a must win situation.

Pakistan has the wherewithal to turn the Indian applecart upside down and captain Malik had said after Kanpur that, ''there is lots of cricket to play and we will come back'', but for such a thing to happen he has to lead by example and give strength to the middle order and hope his bowlers ensure that Indian batsmen, who are on a roll, do not to dictate terms on them.

The Teams:

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain&wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Murali Kartik, Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth and Praveen Kumar

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


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