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2nd Test: Opening puzzle haunts India

Dravid is expected to return to his No 3 spot, with either openers Gambhir and Jaffer partnering the maverick Sehwag.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 12:39 IST

Bright sunshine in the last two days has given players hope of a sporting pitch that will prompt a keen contest in the second India-Pakistan Test startingon Saturday.

The pitch continues to be the centre of discussions after the first Test in Lahore ended in a dull and drab draw Tuesday - thanks to a flat surface and inclement weather.

In Faisalabad, however, things promise to be better with the sun coming out and shining brightly onThursday and Friday, bringing smiles to the faces of curator Agha Zahid and his team of grounds-men.

Zahid said that it needed bright sunshine for about two weeks to make a sporting pitch to facilitate a good contest between bat and ball.

Even if the pitch is a few notches better than the one in Lahore, Indian players might take a while longer to adjust to the Iqbal Stadium pitch as except Sachin Tendulkar none of them has played a match here.

Even Tendulkar played just one match, during his debut Test series in 1989, and scored 59 in the first innings before the encounter, not surprisingly, ended in a draw.

Vice captain Virender Sehwag remains the biggest threat for Pakistan. The top scorer in the first Test had been in poor form lately, especially in one-day internationals. But India's first and only triple Test centurion has overcome his form in grand style.

A product of one-day cricket, Sehwag has become more successful in the five-day Test matches as was evident once again in Lahore where he batted for 328 minutes in an impeccable display of patience and temperament.

India will, however, have to sort out the opening riddle. Although Dravid opened the innings in the first Test, it was at best a stopgap arrangement. He is expected to return to his familiar No 3 spot here, with either of the two specialist openers - Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer - partnering Sehwag.

Who knows, even former captain Sourav Ganguly, a successful opener in one-day internationals, could open with Sehwag. A final decision on the issue is only likely to be known Saturday morning when the captains exchange team lists at the time of the toss.

On the other side of the fence, Pakistan is likely to retain the same XI that played the first Test. They have retained the same squad of 15 for Faisalabad.

Pakistani batsmen look in ominous form as four of them scored centuries in the team's 679 for seven declared in Lahore. But vice-captain Sehwag (254) and captain Rahul Dravid (unbeaten 128) led India's strong reply, though they failed to break the world opening-wicket partnership record of 413 by a mere four runs.

While the batsmen gained valuable practice in Lahore, bowlers on both sides did not get much assistance from the pitch and failed to make an impression.

Dravid, however, said that the team management would not raise the issue of pitch with the Pakistan Cricket Board.

SQUADS:

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Sourav Ganguly, Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Parthiv Patel (wicket-keepers), Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Salman Butt, Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Rana Naved, Danish Kaneria, Imran Farhat, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Asif and Arshad Khan.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Simon Taufel (Australia)

Third umpire: Zameer Haider (Pakistan)

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 13:55 IST