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India Vs Pakistan: A curtain raiser

Nimish Dubey

(With the India-Pakistan cricket series all set to start, Nimish Dubey, our resident cricket pundit, was feeling a bit lonely – none of the television channels had asked him for his comments – and decided to have a conversation with himself. If you feel like asking him a question or two feel free to drop him an e-mail at nimish@enableall.org.)

Q. So the series is going ahead after all. What is so special about India-Pakistan encounters? I mean, both sides are calling it just another series and nothing special…

A. If this is just another series, then the Oscars are just another award!

Look, there are rivalries and rivalries, and then there is India vs Pakistan. Mind you, I am talking only of the one-day international (ODI) matches between the two nations. The Test matches between them have generally put even insomniacs to sleep, but the shorter version of the game has been a different story altogether. From India bowling out Pakistan for under three figures after themselves being dismissed for 126 and Javed Miandad’s epic six to win the AustralAsia Cup off the final ball, to Kanitkar’s winning boundary in a record run chase in the Dhaka twilight and Tendulkar’s vicious assault on Shoaib Akhtar in the recent World Cup…there are memorable moments and cliff-hangers by the dozen when the teams involved are India and Pakistan.

Add that thrilling history to the fact that India last played an ODI series in Pakistan seven years ago and you get the picture.

Q. Sourav Ganguly says that the team is under no pressure. How tough is it going to be playing in Pakistan?

A. Well, you can hardly expect him to say that India are shaking with fear! As for difficulty, India have NEVER won a one-day series (or a Test Match) in Pakistan. What more can one say? The crowds are notoriously partisan (you will be able to hear a pin drop when an Indian batsman hits a boundary) and noisy, and the high security arrangements are likely to affect the Indian team more than the hosts. Pakistan definitely will be the more comfortable of the two sides going into the series.

Q. The big question: who is likely to win?

A.  I have no crystal ball handy, but on paper and on recent form, Sourav Ganguly’s team seems to hold the edge. After all, they made the final of the 2003 World Cup, the ICC Trophy, and the recent VB Series. And then there is the awesome batting form of the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly himself, Dravid and Laxman to be reckoned with. The bowling and fielding still seems shockingly inadequate, but then one-day cricket is supposed to be a batsman’s game and India definitely seem to be one-up on their rivals here.

Pakistan for their part seem to be one of the most unpredictable sides in world cricket, sublime one day and substandard on the next. While there is no denying the talent in the side, there are far too many inconsistent performers in the ranks. Any team would be proud to have the likes of Inzamam, Akhtar, Saqlain, Razzaq and Sami in their ranks, but the lord alone knows how they will perform on a given day.

Right now, I would say India has a 60-40 chance.

Q. Many people are calling the series as a match-up between Indian batting and Pakistani bowling. Is it as simple as that?

A. Of course not! The ‘batting vs bowling’ hype is because most of India’s high profile players are batsmen (Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag , Ganguly) and Pakistan’s biggest stars are its bowlers (Akhtar, Sami and Saqlain). However, the chances are that the result will depend on how well the unpredictable Pakistani batting line-up performs. For all its promise, the side does not have any consistent performers. Inzamam and Youhana carry a massive burden on their shoulders. If they fire, India could have a tough time.

Q. In such a crucial series, the captains will have a vital role to play. How do they measure up?

A. Well, both Sourav Ganguly and Inzamam-ul-Haq made their international debuts in 1991-92. if at that time, you had predicted that they would be leading their teams against each other twelve years later, you would have been labelled a lunatic. And yet here they are doing just that. Cricket is a funny game (I intend to say that quite a few times).

Sourav Ganguly is a great captain when the team is winning, but turns into a sullen customer when things get rough. He also seems a bit insecure, given his tendency of quoting statistics in his support. He tends to favour certain players, but has a flair for unorthodox moves that can keep the opposition off balance. There is no arguing against his record and the team certainly seems to support him. He is confident, aggressive and, being one of the best batsmen in the ODI business, can lead by example.

Inzamam-ul-Haq, on the other hand, seems to be one of nature’s passive skippers. Mainly conservative and not inclined to take risks, he is more suited to the Test arena. Anyway, if the rumour mill is to be believed, most of the tactical input is going to come from Javed Miandad in the dressing room.

Q. Who are going to be the players to look out for?

A. I would keep an eye on the entire Indian batting line-up as well as all the Pakistani pace bowlers. If you are looking for tips on dark horses, keep an eye out for Yousuf Youhanna. He may not be as brilliant as Tendulkar or Inzamam, but collects his runs efficiently and even strikes the odd boundary from time to time. A vastly underrated batsman. There are no dark horses in the Indian side. Thanks to the media exposure every one in the Indian team has got star status. Ramesh Powar is one to look out for but I am not too sure he will get picked.

Q. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams?

A. Well, there are so many moody performers on either side that it is difficult to pinpoint specific strengths and weaknesses but here goes.

India:
Strengths
1. Awesome batting line-up.
2. Awesome batting line-up
3. (In case you haven’t got it yet) Awesome batting line-up

Weaknesses
Bowling is weak (they are calling Irfan Pathan and Balaji strike bowlers!)
Batting seems to be vulnerable on bouncy wickets.
Fielding and wicket-keeping remain problem areas.

Pakistan
Strengths:
Excellent and varied bowling attack
Lots of all rounders
Some very aggressive batsmen

Weaknesses:
Highly inconsistent performers
Poor fielding
Constant changing of squad has bred insecurity

Q. From the players to the playing surface itself. How are the pitches likely to play?

A. Most pitches in Pakistan are a batsman’s dream – grassless with not too much bounce. This is a bit surprising given Pakistan’s excellent bowling resources, but then cricket is a funny game. The Pakistan Cricket Board is saying that the pitches for this series are likely to have more bounce on them as they have been prepared with the aid of foreign experts, but well, I have my doubts. My prediction is that this is one series that is going to see lots of runs being scored.

Q. The first match is in Karachi. What is it going to be like?

A. Interesting, to say the least. Karachi is supposed to be the hub of Pakistan cricket but has not been allotted a Test Match this time because of ‘security’ concerns. The officials and the crowd are not likely to appreciate that!

Karachi has hosted more Test matches than any other venue in Pakistan. But while Pakistan have been virtually unbeatable in Tests at Karachi (they have lost just one out of 36 Tests), their one-day record at the venue is not too good. Of the 25 matches played at Karachi, the hosts have won 11 and lost 12.

India’s record at Karachi is quite good. They have played three times, winning once, losing once and holding the upper hand on the third occasion before spectator violence resulted in play being abandoned.

Both Sourav Ganguly and Shoaib Akhtar have happy memories of the ground. Ganguly’s 89 in 1997 remains the highest ODI score by an Indian at the venue while Akhtar’s 6-16 against New Zealand in 2002 is the best bowling recorded. Incidentally, the best bowling by an India was 3-5 by Manoj Prabhakar in 1989. Unfortunately, his bowling so annoyed the crowd that they disrupted the match with Pakistan reeling. The best batting by a Pakistani at the venue is Yousuf Youhana’s 125 against New Zealand in 2002. 

Q. Finally, how about some words of advice to the skippers about the toss and teams?

A. Well, the pitch has a reputation for not being particularly quick and aids spinners towards the end of play. If I won the toss here, I would bat first without hesitation.

It is difficult to say what kind of team to pick without having had a look at the pitch, but I do wish India would not ask Dravid to keep wicket. The ball is likely to keep low and he is going to struggle as he is not a specialist wicket-keeper. Pakistan would do well not to ask Afridi to open the innings as they have a regular opening pair and breaking it up would be daft.

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