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Wicket holds the key to series decider

The rivals get a chance to break the deadlock on a green wicket.
By Kuldip Lal (AFP) | None, Karachi
UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2006 06:55 PM IST

The focus has shifted from the players to the pitch as India and Pakistan attempt to salvage their Test series after two high-scoring drawn games that drew widespread criticism.

The rivals get a chance to break the deadlock in the third and final Test starting at the National Stadium here from Sunday on a hard, greenish wicket that experts say should produce a result.

The bowlers' graveyards in Lahore and Faisalabad made a mockery of the first two Tests which produced 2,791 runs and 12 centuries and saw only 36 of the possible 80 wickets fall.

The stinging criticism of the flat, lifeless wickets from players and fans alike prompted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to release a statement blaming the cold weather in both cities for the dull draws.

"Regrettably, due to weather conditions - rain, frost and absence of sunshine - the pitches turned out low and slow, tilting the balance totally in favour of batsmen, producing dull cricket and disappointing results," the PCB release said.

"It is hoped that Karachi, which has abundant sunshine, will produce a pitch that will be result-oriented and will strike a fair balance between bat and ball."

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer said his first look at the National Stadium wicket made him optimistic that a result was possible.

"I am pleased to see the best square of the series two days before the Test starts," said Woolmer, the former England batsman.

"It is a typical Karachi wicket which should have good bounce in the beginning and help spinners later in the game."

The high-profile Test series, touted as bigger than the Ashes contests between England and Australia, needs a fitting finale to lift the morale of fans on both sides of the border.

When India played in Pakistan in 2004, all three Tests produced results with India winning 2-1. Pakistan's tour of India last year ended 1-1 with one match drawn.

Indian captain Rahul Dravid hoped the dull draws in the current series would not diminish interest in India-Pakistan contests.

"Our cricket is important to many people in the world and it's important that people get to see good cricket - not only for India and Pakistan but for world cricket," said Dravid.

"We've had some very good series before this one. When we came here in 2004 we had some of the best wickets I've seen and played in my career.

"The last couple of Test matches haven't lived up to the expectations of an India-Pakistan contest and I hope Karachi will do that," he said.

India and Pakistan are confident of fielding full-strength teams for the decider despite injury and illness concerns for some players.

Woolmer said Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq was ready for action after being forced to miss the last three days of the second Test with a back strain.

The Pakistan coach was also confident that pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar, recovering from an ankle injury, would play.

"Inzamam and Shoaib look good to play," said Woolmer. "I can't see them missing such an important game."

Pakistan, however, will be without opening batsman Shoaib Malik, who was not considered for selection following the death of his father on Wednesday.

Imran Farhat is the likely replacement, but Woolmer said a final decision on the playing eleven would not be made till Sunday morning.

In-form Indian opener Virender Sehwag, who suffered a bout of food poisoning in Faisalabad, has recovered fully, according to team manager Raj Singh Dungarpur.

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