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Hosts have an upper hand

This time Team India will be facing a Herculean task, writes Javagal Srinath. Can Rahul recreate '04 magic?

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 14:47 IST

The results of the high profile Indo-Pak cricket series beginning Friday will actually decide as to which Asian country really holds the cricketing supremacy in this continent. Recent results in the last one year have shown that Pakistan has played marginally better cricket than their arch rivals.

Pakistan's comprehensive win in both forms of the game in the home series against mighty England is a clear indication that the hosts hold the upper hand. Unlike the last tour where the Indians were able to leave the Pakistanis demoralized, this time Team India will be really up against a Herculean task.

Team India's win against Pakistan in the last tour in 2004 came at the backdrop of their successful tour of Australia. It is always easy to carry forward the positive energy from one series to another in back-to-back series.

India's brilliant showings Down Under did cast a shadow on the Pakistan team, thus giving India a psychological edge over the hosts. But this time the tides have changed, especially after Pakistan did well against England.

Players' frame of mind before a high and intense series is always crucial. This time the initiative clearly rest with the hosts.

During the last tour of Pakistan, the formula that worked for Team India was the combination of the enormity of experience in the batting line-up along with the novelty value brought by some new bowlers. While Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman continued from where they left in Australia, Irfan Pathan and Balaji brought the freshness and surprise element to the Indian attack.

The Indian batting heavily depends on the openers once again. Sehwag, whose consistency and brutality with the bat was the recipe in the previous tour, is yet to get a regular partner. If Gambhir does not fit the bill quickly, it might be once again risking Dravid to open the innings.

The general belief is that there is depth in the Indian middle-order batting. But the depth is seen only when the first three batsmen put up a decent score. The Indian lower order batting, renewed with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan chipping in of late, can afford to think of an extra bowler in the side.

But understanding the conservative approach of the Indians, they might go with six regular batsmen and four bowlers in the first Test. In the event of India going with four bowlers, with Irfan, Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble running as first choices, it will be a toss up between Harbhajan and Ajit Agarkar.

In my opinion, Harbhajan Singh is far more effective and should walk into the side irrespective of the pitch conditions.

There has been lot of talk about the pivotal role 'Rawalpindi Express' Shoaib Akthar may play in this series.

Frankly, if he is able to repeat what he did against the English, he could trouble the touring side. But some of the batsmen in the Indian team might feel that Shoaib is far more lethal when he is making a comeback than when he is already floating with success.

The men to watch out in this series would be the much improved Danish Kaneria and under-rated Naved Rana. If the orthodox leggie was the one who mostly gave the Pakistanis the much-needed breakthroughs against England, Naved was the man who was always sharp and accurate in the face of the opponents.

The Pakistani batting has been a revelation in the last series. In comparison to the team that played in the previous tour, a lot of players have held their places in the side this time.

Salman Butt has slowly progressed to become a regular opener. The greying Inzamam, the epitome of calmness along with Mohammed Yousuf, will be the Indian equivalent of Tendulkar and Dravid.

With Younis Khan and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, Pakistan seems to have found the depth in the batting order.

In the end, there is one man who can turn the team around with his cricketing acumen, Bob Woolmer. One can expect that the Pakistan think tank would want to play on a lively track. I feel that would also help the Indian fast bowlers to bowl Pakistan out.

But Pakistan has the battery to operate on flat tracks where the Indian fast bowlers might find themselves wanting.

First Published: Jan 12, 2006 14:03 IST