India and Pakistan will renew their cricketing rivalry in Guwahati on Monday when they clash in the first of the five one-day internationals (ODIs), even as the visiting players worry about political developments back home. <b1>
The Pakistani team had dinner in New Delhi on Saturday evening after hearing that President Pervez Musharraf had declared 'emergency', but the tour of India would continue since there had been no instruction to the contrary.
The other good news was that insurgent outfit United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had declared that it would not disrupt the ODI at the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati.
Though both teams are young and almost at par, India holds the edge going by the history of the ground plus home advantage. The home team has won four of the seven matches at the venue, including the last one against Zimbabwe in 2002.
The Indian and Pakistan teams are on equal footing on another scale: both have lost their previous series, and both losses came on home turf. World ODI champions Australia defeated India 4-2 while South Africa beat Pakistan 3-2 in a cliff-hanger.
Pakistan also lost the Test series to Graeme Smith's touring side preceding the ODIs, something that would have affected their morale in the ODIs.
India, on the other hand, defeated Australia in the one-off Twenty20 International after the ODI series to regain some confidence.
Additionally, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India have more experience than Pakistan, though Rahul Drvaid will miss an ODI after a long, long time as he has been controversially "rested" for the first two matches.
Nevertheless, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly will be there to add to the home advantage to the side.
It will be India's batting line-up that millions of Indian fans will be looking forward to for giving it a sound start in the series. Adding weight to the batting will be Virender Sehwag, who has been recalled to the side after a while, thanks partly to his good record against Pakistan.
Shoaib Malik's boys, on the other hand, may be a little distracted because of the political developments back home in Pakistan, but they would want to concentrate on the task at hand.
Their facile win over Delhi in the lone warm-up match at Ferozeshah Kotla Friday should give them some confidence.
Batsman Salman Butt, particularly, made most of the opportunity, scoring 83 before injury forced him off the field, while Misbah-ul-Haq (39), Imran Nazir (34) and Yasir Hameed (33 not out) made useful contributions.
Bowling, however, remains Pakistan's strength, despite the absence of the injured opening bowler Mohammed Asif. They still have fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, and Rao Iftikhar Anjum to make decisive inroads into the strong Indian batting line-up.
The speedsters on either side will be expected to give their team a head start, especially if the captain winning the toss decides to bowl first when the match starts early here, with heavy morning conditions ideally suited to swing bowling.
Curator Sunil Baruah said taking into account overnight dew as well as limited winter sunshine the match would start at 8.30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. He also warned that the game should finish by 4.10 p.m. instead of the official time of 4.15 pm, to avoid the deteriorating evening light.
It effectively means that the two captains will have to be extra vigilant and ask their bowlers, particularly fast bowlers with long run-ups, to hurry up to avoid confronting a situation when poor visibility may hamper play towards the final overs of the day.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicket-keeper), Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain), Gautam Gambhir, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Rohit Sharma, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (captain), Salman Butt, Imran Nazir, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Fawad Alam and Rao Iftikhar Anjum
Umpires: Ian Gould (England) and Amesh Saheba (India)
Third umpire: G.A. Pratap Kumar (India)
Fourth umpire: M.S. Ranawat (India)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka)