KOLKATA, Jan 2: Wrecked by Pakistan seamers in the opening One-day International, India’s under-fire cricketers will have to pull themselves up against the arch-rivals when they clash in a must-win second cricket one-dayer here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Left-arm paceman Junaid Khan had sucked the life out of Indian batting when his fiery spell of four for 43 in Chennai mopped up the top order and eventually set up a six-wicket victory for Pakistan.
None of the top five batsmen could even reach a double digit figure and if it would not have been for skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s heroic unbeaten 113, things would have been more embarrassing for the hosts who are trailing the three-match series 0-1.
Another defeat here mean India’s second series loss in less than a fortnight after England recorded their first Test series win (2-1) on Indian soil in 28 years.
With odds heavily stacked against them at Eden Gardens, a struggling India will be under tremendous pressure to keep the three-match series alive.
It remains to be seen how Dhoni makes the famed top-order click with both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir struggling to give a good start.
In absence of retired ODI batsman Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag is yet to take up the challenge and lead the batting from the front.
Sehwag had a poor 2012, accumulating 217 from 10 matches. Barring a 96 against Sri Lanka last year, he’s yet to fire since his record-breaking 219 in December 2011.
The Sehwag conundrum is hurting India’s cause and the opener will need to come up with a sizzling innings to give India a dazzling start, something that more often than not translates into a big win.
“When the senior player like Sehwag comes into the side, when he is specially picked for the series, he needs a go ahead,” Dhoni said indicating that Sehwag will remain at his slot.
Virat Kohli too is going through a mini-slump and it has only added to India’s misery. Kohli had injured his foot in Chennai and there’s a cloud of uncertainty over him but India would want the promising right-hander to be back in his usual No 3.
Barring Yuvraj Singh who had set up India’s series-levelling Twenty20 International win in Ahmedabad with his 36-ball 72, India’s batting has been a picture of inconsistency.
Promising batsman Ajinkya Rahane has been warming the bench and may get a chance to play in case Kohli does not recover from his injury.
In the bowling department, India would like Bhuvneshwar Kumar swing the ball with his fine pace, while in spin department Ravichandran Ashwin will be the key as the home side would look to keep the same three-plus-one pace-spin combination that means local lad Shami Ahmed may have to wait for his first ODI cap.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have an all-win record against India from three matches at the Eden Gardens and they would look to wrap up the issue here.
The pace battery of Umar Gul, Junaid and Mohammad Irfan will once again look to bowl full throttle and exploit India’s weakness.
Irfan had pulled a hamstring under muggy conditions of Chennai and it remains to be seen whether the 7-feet 1-inch frame speedster figures in the ranks.
But all eyes would be on Junaid as he would look to give early breakthroughs with the new ball.
The only concern for skipper Misbah-ul-Haq would be to improve their death bowling performance that had conceded 81 runs in Chennai as India could recover to 227.
Even in Ahmedabad Twenty20, where their bowlers had conceded 74 runs in last five overs, it had hurt Pakistan’s cause as India levelled the series with an 11-run victory.
“We have to really improve our fielding and bowling in the death overs and Power Play. When two batsmen are set, it is difficult to bowl at them like it was Dhoni[(in Chennai],” Misbah said.
Bolstered by the return of experienced pro Younis Khan in the one-dayer, Pakistan do not have many concern in batting. Their top batsmen of Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed and Shoaib Malik are also among runs and Pakistan would look to get going.
Youngster Nasir has shown fine qualities of an opener as he guided Pakistan to a six-wicket win with his 101 not out. He would look to continue from where he’s left and give Pakistan a solid start.
Even as it’s a noon start, dew would be a concern in this part where sun sets early. The pitch will have plenty in it for the batsmen, promised curator Prabir Mukherjee.
“It’s a typical one-day batting friendly wicket. Batting first upon winning the toss would be a wise decision,” he said.
Teams (from): INDIA: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Shami Ahmed.
PAKISTAN: Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail, Imran Farhat, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Zulfiqar Babar.
Umpires: Vineet Kulkarni (India) and Billy Bowden (New Zealand).
TV umpire: S. Ravi (India).
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka).