The rivalry continues
by Nabeel Sabir
DateLine: 28th February 2005
It was almost the same time last year that two of the greatest rivals in international cricket, India and Pakistan met on the Pakistan side of the border for an epic encounter. The entire sub-continent was gripped in cricket fever. There was hardly a soul that wasn’t affected by it. Cricket is next to religion in this part of the world and cricketers are revered like nowhere on the planet. And when these two teams come face to face with each other it's an extravaganza like no other.
From March 8 both India and Pakistan will continue their battle on the other side of the border and stakes are sky-high to say the least. A buoyant Pakistan team has arrived in India for the 3-Test and 6-ODI match series today. Such are the peculiar intricacies of 'Indo-Pak' cricket that merely days ago the tour was near cancellation over venue disagreements and broadcast rights issues but it all ended up well and the tour is back on track. The anticipation level in the public might not be quite as high as it was for last year's series but nevertheless an India-Pakistan encounter is an 'India-Pakistan encounter'!
For this first full tour to India since 1999 the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq seems confident of putting up a good show and erase the memory of last year's series loss at home. In an interview before departure he was of the opinion that Pakistan had the ability to beat India in India despite being an inexperienced side in comparison to India. The Pakistan team go into the Indian tour after finally getting into their groove towards the end of the recent Australian tour. The tour 'down under' would have done the young team's confidence, ability and attitude a world of good as they did play better than the results suggest. Many of the newcomers put up their hands and delivered, including Salman Butt and Naved-ul-Hasan.
For this all-important tour the Pakistan team will be without their best attack bowler, Shoaib Akhtar. The world's fastest bowler will have to miss out the Test series as he has failed to recover from a hamstring injury but is expected to join the team for the 6-match one-day series which will start in April. Missing a bowler of Shoaib's class could be a severe blow but the team still has able resources to peg back the much vaunted Indian batting line. The likes of Mohammad Sami, Naved, Abdul Razzaq and Danish Kaneria have the talent to do well. They will also have good support from allrounder Shahid Afridi and the experienced arm of offspinner Arshad Khan who has been recalled to the side. The coach and captain have a good blend to choose from for the bowling attack - a key factor as they will need to dismiss India twice in the Tests to win.
The other important factor will be team selection: Eleven players able to handle pressure well to come up victors. In most cases, in past Indo-Pak battles, it is this sustaining of pressure which takes precedence over talent and ability. And, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer also spelt it out when he said, "The hosts always start favourites, but mental games are the key to success." The Pakistan team must have learnt a lot in this area during their Australian tour where they had to deal with pressure cooker situations first hand.
Taking a look at preparations being made by India and the squad announced for the first Test at Mohali it seems on the surface they are relying on their fast bowlers to do the trick. Four pacers, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Lakshmipathy Balaji have been listed in the 14-man squad. If that is really what the Indians are planning to do the Pakistanis shouldn't be having much of problem as they are touring after facing a far superior attack in much more helpful conditions. Perhaps behind the smoke the reality will be that spinners will still be the India's best bet for success against Pakistan with Kumble and Harbhajan in the final XI.
All in all, there isn't much to choose between the two teams. Although the Indians might argue they are more experienced, Pakistan on the other hand have a capable unit which can deliver if they play to their potential and handle the pressure well. So let's sit back and look forward to witnessing yet another memorable series.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Nabeel Sabir)