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India, Pakistan renew battle in desert

Any punter worth his salt will bet on India, but team's 1st match record may make him uneasy, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 13:28 IST

Any punter worth his salt is going to put his money on India in the run-up to the first match versus Pakistan at Abu Dhabi.

After all, the recent demolition of teams like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England, and a creditable 2-2 draw against formidable South Africa may have given fans the hope of a 2-0 score line against the archrivals.

What else can be the result with powerful finishers like Raina, Dhoni and Yuvraj in their ranks, and terminators like Pathan and Harbhajan spearheading the bowling attack.

But India do have a weakness. Failure to begin the first match on a really positive note. The first matches in the last three ODI series have shown that India are a tentative beginners. They do give a chance to the opposition to squeeze in.

November 16, 2005, Hyderabad

After demolishing the challenge of the then number two team in the world, Sri Lanka, India were facing formidable South Africa at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. Proteas may have been a side next only to Australia, but with a 6-1 run in the previous series, India had their tails up.

However, confident of their pace attack spearheaded by Ntini, Nel and Pollock, South Africa chose to put India in and, predictably, had them on ropes.

By the fifth over, India had lost Sehwag, Tendulkar and Kaif with just five runs on Board. Thirty five for five at one stage, if India did manage to recover, it was all thanks to a brilliant 103 by the eventual man-of-the-match Yuvraj Singh and some useful contributions from the Indian tail.

Bowlers again raised some hope by taking five South African wickets with 82 runs still to be made, but Kallis and Kemp took care of any revival. India showed nerves in the first match, and South Africa were quick to exploit it.

Like Proteas, Pakistan too has some genuine quickies in their ranks. And if they do find the rhythm, India will have their hands full.

February 6, 2006, Peshawar

Indian hopes soared at Peshawar as Tendulkar looked unstoppable. A brilliant century from the master and useful promotions of Pathan (65 runs as one-down batsman) and Dhoni (68 runs at two-down) helped India to a massive total of 328. Surely, the visitors could not have lost the 1st ODI from such position. But they did!

One may blame it on sheer bad luck (weather), or artistry of Salman Butt, or Shoaib Malik's sensational 90 of just 67 deliveries, but it also brought into focus once again the first match syndrome. The loss also showed that against rampaging sides, the Indian bowling at times tends to lose its edge.

That Pakistan failed to convert this victory into a series-winning momentum is altogether another matter. But Team India did show that they were mortals too.

March 28, 2006, Delhi

India had reasons to be downcast after Mumbai's fiasco, but top order was not expected to give in the way it did in the 1st ODI against England. Comfortably placed at 56 for one in the tenth over, India lost their next four wickets for the addition of just 24 runs and were staring down the barrel at 80 for five.

It was only thanks to 20 plus knocks from Raina, Pathan and Dhoni, and a mind-blowing innings' top score of 37 from Harbhajan, that India managed to cross 200 runs.

If India could win, it was mainly because of a thoughtless slog-sweep by Pietersen off Yuvraj, with England only 87 runs away from victory with seven wickets in hands.

That one bad stroke allowed Harbhajan a look-in and rediscover his form, which has made him India's premier ODI spinners post-Kumble. India just about managed to survive due to Harbhajan's heroics.

Even Stevens

So Pakistan are certainly no pushovers. They will also be aware of the fact that India have shown their frailties in the first encounters in last three ODI series.

Even in the last series against Pakistan, it was not a one-way traffic all the time as the score line of 4-1 suggests. Inzamam is clear that more than anything else, the lop-sided verdict was due to the Indian ability to wriggle out of the tight situations better than Pakistan.

Surely, there will be many more tight situations on April 18 and 19, but India will do well to watch out for the 1st match syndrome. More so as they will be playing in an alien land after a long hiatus.

Indians are good enough to beat the 1st match blues, but will they?

First Published: Apr 18, 2006 11:41 IST