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India have more than a hurdle enroute to semis

india Updated: Sep 27, 2009 00:26 IST
Ian chappell

The early stages of the Champions Trophy have produced a couple of major upsets, both involving Sri Lanka, as well as a dose of intrigue.

The first point of conjecture is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde nature of the Centurion pitch. The difference between the first contest, which Sri Lanka won and the second where South Africa reigned supreme, was equivalent to that of the matches --- night and day. The pitch for the first game was straw coloured and flat, providing very little for the pace bowlers but the same strip a couple of days later was helpful to the leather flingers with seam movement off the cracks plus spin and bounce.

This becomes an important factor because not only will the ground host the final but also three crucial Group A fixtures involving India, Pakistan and Australia, one of whom will miss out on the semifinals.

Normally, either type of pitch would suit both subcontinent sides because they have the crafty spinners and Australian batsmen are vulnerable to this style of attack. However, India have suffered a double blow in the loss of Yuvraj Singh; they'll miss his powerful striking and intimidating presence in the middle-order and his part-time spin bowling capabilities.

India have another potential hurdle on the way to semifinals. Depending on the outcome of earlier matches, they may well need to win their last qualifying match against the West Indies at the Wanderers. This would appear to be a hurdle no bigger than that encountered in a 400-metre race but it could easily turn into a daunting Grand National steeplechase obstacle because the Wanderers pitch has pace and bounce.

The Indies batting is abysmal, but they do have some good pace bowling options in Kemar Roach, Gavin Tonge and Darren Sammy. If India were to experience problems coping with the extra bounce, then this might not be the simple steppingstone to the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will be delighted that they scrambled to a win at the Wanderers and now move to a less bouncy surface at Centurion. However, the inability of their top order to cope with Tonge's pace and bounce provided an opportunity for Umar Akmal to unveil his calm approach and solid technique . Umar is yet another classic example of how Pakistan not only produces young talented players but is also prepared to play them at an early age.

Despite enjoying the plaudits after picking Sachin Tendulkar at a tender young age, in recent years, the Indian selectors have tended to discard youth at the first sign of trouble and recall ageing players.