The classic Pakistan-India duels have almost always pitted the former’s raging fast men against the steel of the latter’s batting line.
For Pakistan, the pacers have always been there, but lately there was very little of that rage; the edge that put the Indian batsmen on the back foot. Meanwhile, India has continued to churn out one quality batsmen after the other, pushing extra weight in the seesaw battle between the neighbours.
Whether Pakistan may have turned back the hands of time, only the coming season will tell. But on evidence of the first three games of this tour, there has been a considerable shift, perhaps even a psychological one. It has given captains Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez belief that Pakistan can yet ‘stir ’em up’. That Saeed Ajmal, the team’s one-man strike force for the last couple of years, has largely flown under the radar in India, may further the notion but his impact on the host’s batsmen cannot be ruled out.
Will the trio of Junaid Khan, Umar Gul and Mohamamd Irfan fire at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata? Veteran curator Prabir Mukhherjee has termed the strip a “proper one-day wicket”, meaning there will be enough in it to keep the batsmen, bowlers and stands alive. There is, however, the threat of early morning showers, which will add juice to the turf and once again make it a game where the batsman have to go that extra-mile.
Pakistan’s batsman can take confidence from their performance in the last ODI and gambling fans will actually take heart from the imperious-looking Hafeez’s failure at Chennai. There is a long-standing belief in the followers of Pakistan that often it is the brilliance of a couple of individuals upon which the whole teams rides upon, hence, Ajmal’s low-key showing will also not be bothersome.
The hosts, on the other hand, will need to get their act together as a whole, it seems and apart from Dhoni, there was hardly a performance to be proud of. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and even Virat Kohli, available for selection after an injury, have a bit to prove, as does Ravichandran Ashwin, who was being touted as the biggest threat to Misbah’s men on this tour.
With the increasing levels of fog and decreasing temperatures in New Delhi, the venue for the last ODI, there are chances that Thursday’s match may well turn into the series decider. And if Pakistan were to pick a venue to win their first limited-overs series in India since 2005, they couldn’t have done better than Eden Gardens, where they have won all four out a total of five matches, three of them against the hosts.
Barring any last-minute niggles, Pakistan are unlikely to make any changes to the squad that played in Chennai: Nasir Jamshed, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Mohammad Irfan
India may bring in some fresh faces, with Ajinkya Rahane looking like a better prospect to open the innings at this point then Virender Sehwag and Ravindra Jadeja giving Dhoni a bowling option in place of Rohit Sharma. Dropping Sehwag could prove dicey for the captain, though, and the likely Indian line up may look like this:
Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda.
Eden Gardens, Kolkata:
-The venue, it seems, suits the Indian bowlers. The top five for most wickets on this ground in ODIs are all Indian. Although not in the same class as Kapil Dev and Anil Kumble, Dinda, Ashwin and co and take that as a positive.
-Only four Pakistani players, Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal have previously played at the Eden Gardens, dubbed by some as ‘cricket’s answer to the Coliseum.’
-Out of the 26 ODIs played at the venue, teams batting first have won 14 times, 11 victories have come while chasing and there has been one no-result. It seems a pretty even stat, and indicates that conditions do not change much throughout.