India will start the one-day series as favourites. Although they recently lost 2-4 to the Australians, it was the world's best team they were playing against. The Indian team is more or less settled, unlike the Pakistani outfit, which is still struggling to find answers to questions that have been bothering it for some time now.
The problems begin at the top. Mohammed Hafeez and Imran Nazir opened the batting in the first one-dayer against South Africa, Nazir and Kamran Akmal in the second, Yasir Hameed and Shahid Afridi in the third and fourth, and Akmal and Afridi in the fifth. When Akmal wasn't opening, he was batting at no. 7! This is nothing short of bizarre!
If Yousuf, Younis fail?
The batting is over-reliant on Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf, and if either or both batsmen fail, the team will be up against it. The others have got used to being shunted up and down the order. In any grade of cricket, this is potentially disastrous.
They did get one thing right amidst all the confusion. Afridi should always open. Few players in world cricket can make the power plays count like he can. He has history on his side. His belligerence at the top was the biggest difference in the previous one-day series on Indian soil in early 2005.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has done a fine job as captain, but the fact is that he has been luckier than most of his predecessors.
Indian teams regularly flopped against Pakistan in the past because their bowling resources were bare.
The same cannot be said about the current Indian side. R.P. Singh, Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan, to name just three players, have given a good account of themselves. The Indian batting is formidable, with Yuvraj Singh in the form of his life.
No 3 is India’s weak link
I do believe that Rahul Dravid shouldn't have been dropped. All that a player of his calibre needs is one good innings. He shouldn't have dropped himself down the order when he was captain. It remains to be seen whether India can find a competent replacement for him at the critical no. 3 slot.
That is one area where the Pakistanis have a slight advantage. Younis has settled down in that slot. He has always done well against India, and will look to continue from where he left off in the previous series.
The early morning start might prompt either captain to bowl first after winning the toss. But it shouldn't really matter, as it is a fifty-over game. I expect the wickets to be as conducive to batting as they were in 2005.
Pakistan will be the underdogs, but then, their unpredictability is well known and documented.
The Indians will be foolish to take them lightly.