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India's chance to strike back

This tie may decide whether the series will be a close fight between India and Pakistan, writes Pradeep Magazine.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 03:37 IST

Islamabad is a beautiful city in a very sterile, clinical sense. Those who have seen Chandigarh will understand that well planned roads, open spaces and geometrically laid-out houses and markets do, at times, take the soul away from a city.

The Indian cricketers have been stationed in this city of bureaucrats and diplomats for the last four days and, one presumes, been waiting anxiously for the one-day series --- temporarily halted due to the Muharram holidays --- to resume.

The second one-dayer will be played on Saturday at Rawalpindi, a chaotic city like any in the sub-continent and about half an hour's drive from here, in a stadium that is another reminder of how well cricket grounds have been planned in Pakistan.

The ground is much bigger than the one in Peshawar, it’s oval shaped stands filled with comfortable chairs and the distance between the ground and stands close enough for good viewing.

This will be a match that could decide whether India would run Pakistan close in the five-match shoot-out or would the hosts install themselves as clear favourites. Though Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq does not believe, at least for public consumption, that his team is the favourite on the strength of its better all-round capabilities, he does agree that if they win this match, it will be hard for India to make a comeback.

Whatever his utterances to the media, it is no great secret that Pakistan are a superior one-day side on paper because their bowling is far better than what India has on offer. And they are a better bowling attack even without Shoaib Akhtar, who was again ruled out of the match. It is doubtful whether his ankle injury will heal quickly enough for him to play in any of the one-dayers.

India are clearly handicapped by a medium pace attack that lacks the bite and pace needed to contain marauding batsmen on lifeless flat tracks or run through the opponents in helpful conditions.

Rahul Dravid has repeatedly tried to defend his bowlers, saying they are inexperienced and are on a learning curve, but in his heart, he probably knows that bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar can be called inexperienced by no stretch of imagination.

Young they may be but all three have loads and loads of experience and if they are still to be called inexperienced, then he has a serious problem at hand. It is a problem which Indian cricket will have to tackle very seriously if they have to raise a competitive side for the 2007 World Cup.

But that can be dealt with later. At the moment, Dravid and coach Greg Chappell have to sort out this immediate problem before it gets too late for them in the series. What should bring a smile to their faces is that the nature of the track here is somewhat akin to what the bowlers get in India.

That is, if one goes by what Inzamam had to say about the track. According to him, it will not be a high scoring match.

It is a slow track where the batsmen would need to graft and not go flat out and beat the hell out of the ball.

In such a situation, the Indians could have the better-balanced attack, where off spinner Ramesh Powar could come in for a medium pacer, preferably Zaheer. Zaheer, after his impressive spell on a dead track at Faisalabad, has done nothing of note and the extra muscles he has acquired on his torso make him a fit candidate for a lifting competition.

If the slow bowlers prove handier than the medium pacers, India could have a chance to strike back immediately and level the series. But all these arguments could fall flat if the Indian batsmen don't fire and fire big. As Dravid put it, "It is always difficult to assess what would be a competitive target to set on these flat tracks against a strong batting line-up like Pakistan."

Whatever the pre-match assumptions, one-day cricket is like a lottery and in the end, who wins and who loses depends on as minor a factor as an accurate throw (run-out), a single furiously taken, a miraculous catch held or an easy one dropped.

In its uncertainty lies the essence of the game and that is what makes one-day cricket impossible to predict.