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Runs expected to pour in desert

Flat, lifeless wicket in Multan promises batting bonanza as India take on Pak in 4th ODI, writes Pradeep Magazine.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 11:48 IST

Multan is a city known for its Sufi saints and the sweet sohan halwa. It is also a city where the dust hangs in the air and makes the sunlight appear more than yellowish.

Thecricket stadium, which will host the fourth Pakistan-India one-dayer on Thursday, is like an oasis in the desert. It is built in the centre of an area that is surrounded by mud-houses on one side and intermittent patches of barren and green land on the other.

Once inside the stadium— where the two sides had a relaxed yet intense two-and-a half-hour workout— the world is a rainbow of colours. The thickly carpeted grass of the ground, the white concrete of the stands and the multi-coloured chairs all make the stadium an imposing structure and among the best in Pakistan.

And for the first time on a long tour that is now coming to an end, the pressure of being favourites is on the Indian team. In the Test matches, they had to fight from behind in the first two and lost the decisive third.

The one-dayers began with a loss but after that the weather changed and so did India's fortunes. The last two wins,especially the one in Lahore, puts India in the envious position of being the favourites. The best sign of how the odds have changed can be gauged from Inzamam-ul-Haq's body language. Not that it has changed much. He still labours in his gentle stroll. He still winces while making an effort to answer a question. But, unlike before, his face appears tense and eyes convey self-doubt.

With Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi now both gone, he has more than one reason to be worried. His side's fielding has been below-par and the bowling shoddy. His top order has collapsed only to be propped up by the bottom half. It has been a struggle and the Indians have taken full advantage of a floundering side and played extremely positive, aggressive cricket that has unnerved the Pakistanis.

Despite Virender Sehwag's absence, the Indian batting has looked formidable, even awesome. SachinTendulkaris keen, hungry and focussed. Bad news for the bowlers. Yuvraj's batting has shifted gears and he has gone into a higher league. Even his detractors are now grudgingly acknowledging his immense talent.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now the most feared striker of the ball, in the league of Afridi but much better in terms of his consistency. And then, there is Irfan Pathan, who gets wickets in the beginning and then lends the kind of strength to the batting where a chase of even 400 looks possible on the lifeless, flat tracks of the sub-continent.

The bowling, the weakest part of the team, has clicked so far and Rahul Dravid's leadership skills are winning him more and more friends and admirers. It is always a wonder, as to how a winning team that appears invincible seems to be riddled with weaknesses, the moment it starts losing.

Let us see whether this Indian team goes from strength to strength from here on or, reflects the true nature of a one-day game, in which the very stairs it climbed to take hold of the series have suddenly gone missing.

That is the beauty of one-day international cricket and that is what makes it still so exciting to watch.


India: Dravid (capt), Tendulkar, G Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mohd Kaif, S Raina, Mahendra Dhoni, I Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Z Khan, RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Murali Kartik, H Singh, Ramesh Powar.

Pakistan: Inzamam (capt), Y Khan, S Butt, I Farhat, S Malik, Mohd Yousuf, Faisal Iqbal, K Akmal, A Razzaq, Rana Naved, Umer Gul, A Khan, Y Arafat, Mohd Asif.


First Published: Feb 16, 2006 01:44 IST