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Bowlers' Graveyard awaits India

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January 20, 2006 13:51 IST

After a high-scoring draw on a featherbed pitch in Lahore, arch rivals India and Pakistan go into the second Test, starting in Faisalabad on Saturday with fears that another placid track and inclement weather may throw up a similar result.

The lifeless track and glooomy conditions reduced the first Test between the two staunch rivals to a batting spectacle and both teams would be hoping for a more sporting track and better weather to ensure a cracker of a contest.

After days of murky weather, the sun broke out on Thursday which should help the pitch to dry up a little bit in Faisalabad which has a history of producing drawn encounters.

The Lahore match showed that both teams are very strong in batting, but India seemed to have walked out of the first Test with a slight edge as the reputation of the Pakistan pace attack lay in tatters after the batting heroics of Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag.

Though the hosts put up a mammoth 679 for 7 declared with four batsmen cracking centuries, the visitors denied the Shaoib Akhtar led attack any opppurtunity to sneak into their middle order as a courageous Indian skipper opened the innings with Sehwag and gave a fitting riposte with a 410-run stand.

The flat track in Lahore drew widespread criticism prompting the curators to leave some dry grass on the pitch here which was not rolled for the last two days and may take turn and also offer uneven bounce.

The toss then would be crucial to the end result as both teams would like to bat first when the wicket is at its best.

India are set to retain the same team and it would be a big surprise if skipper Dravid, who scored a fine unbeaten 128 at Lahore, does not come out to open with Sehwag, whose rollicking 254 with 47 fours and a six left the Pakistani pacers running for cover.

Sehwag would be firmly on the rival team's radar gun when strategies are chalked out for the match as he has contributed phenomenally to India's campaign against Pakistan in the last three series held in a short of time of two years, having accumulated a mind-boggling 1236 runs in only seven Tests.

The Delhi batsman seems to have a special liking for the Pakistani attack as with four centuries (including his career-best Indian record of 309,) at the top of the order, he has not only demoralised their bowlers more than once but also made things easier for the lower order batsman.

Sehwag holds the key to which way the contest goes and his cheap dismissal will be the key for the Pakistani bowlers, who were torn to shreds by his punitive blade in the first Test.

The only worry, if it could be called so, for the Indians following the mega partnership between Sehwag and Dravid at Lahore was that none of the middle and lower order batsmen could not get a chance to bat.

VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh have not had a stint with the bat except at the nets after the three-day warm-up match against Pakistan A at Lahore's Bagh-E-Jinnah stadium. But that was ten days ago and not against the best bowlers that the home team can offer.

Former captain Sourav Ganguly has not batted at all in a match after reaching Pakistan on January 7.

This lack of batting stint in the middle of a top-level contest could be a disadvantage to some extent if Pakistan make early inroads into the Indian innings.

The bowlers, on the other hand, have plenty to chew on after the mauling they received from the Pakistan batsman.

It could be a tough ask for the Indian seamers to bowl them out twice after four top order Pakistani batsmen scored free flowing centuries.

Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf gave them the right start but it was Shahid Afridi, who blitzed his way to 103 in 80 balls with 7 sixes, and young Kamran Akmal, who set a new record of fastest century in Test by a wicket keeper), who dented the bowlers morale with their run-blazing.

The visitors would be hoping that the battering the Indian bowlers received from the Pakistan batting line-up would not be weighing on their minds in the second Test.

A major worry for the Indians was the bowling of Harbhajan Singh who was singled out for some rough treatment by Afridi who repeatedly smashed the off spinner with the turn and struck him for four successive sixes in one over.

It would be interesting to see what strategy the bowler, who went wicket-less while conceding a whopping 176 runs in 34 overs, adopts against Pakistan's big-hitting batsman when the two confront each other in Faisalabad.

Anil Kumble, the bowler with the best strike rate for an Indian against Pakistan, too paid a heavy price while taking two wickets, but could cause trouble for Pakistan, if he gets good deck to bowl on.

Faisabalad, unfortunately, has a long history of providing drawn contests and unfortunately that list includes three out of four contests between India and Pakistan.

It's here that a pitch later described as "The Bowler's Graveyard" was prepared for an Australia-Pakistan Test in the early 1980s which defeated a great fast bowler of the caliber of Dennis Lillee who failed to take a single wicket.

Except for the Imran Khan-inspired ten-wicket Test victory for Pakistan in 1983, the other three contests in this industrial town between the two rivals (1978, 1984 and 1989) were drawn affairs. Interestingly the match won by Pakistan was played in the first week of January.

Teams (from):

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Wasim Jaffer, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Rudra Pratap Singh and Parthiv Patel.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Younis Khan, Mohammed Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Muhammad Sami,  Shoaib Malik, Salman Butt, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Kamran Akmal, Arshad Khan, Danish Kaneria, Imran Farhat and Muhammad Asif.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Simon Taufel (Australia).

Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).

S S Ramaswamy
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