ICL: Indian Cricket League

Fitness favours Pakistan in high-stakes finale


It’s a short gap between the second and third Tests but it’s been packed with incident: injuries in the Indian camp; a leadership crisis in the Pakistan squad and the weather turning hostile a couple of days before the Test. That’s only fitting, given the high stakes involved in this match. Simply put, India will win the series if they don’t lose here, Pakistan must win to draw it.

There’s more at stake, though, than the outcome of this series. India have to beat the Bangalore Bogey - the last time they won a Test here was in 1995, against New Zealand, when Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan were support spin acts to Kumble. Since then, India have lost four out five Tests - to Australia, South Africa and Pakistan - and drawn one. Their overall record in Bangalore isn’t flash either - they’ve won only four out of 16 Tests and lost six.

Similarly, Pakistan have a proud record to protect; they haven’t lost a Test series in India since 1979-80 and Younis Khan, the stand-in captain, is determined to keep that record going. “We will need to play hard cricket because we are 0-1 down,” Younis said on the eve of the match. “It is important to remember that we drew the last Test and didn’t win it, so we must not be celebrating. If we draw it won’t make any difference so we are thinking positively.”

The advantage, on paper at least, lies with Pakistan. They scored points in Kolkata, drawing the match despite an injury-ridden squad and a half-fit Shoaib Akhtar. This time, it’s the Indians who have several players short of full fitness: Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel are out of the match and their replacements - Irfan Pathan, VRV Singh and Ishant Sharma - are relatively inexperienced at the Test level. Pathan last played a Test in June 2006; Ishant Sharma has played only one Test and there are doubts about VRV’s fitness levels.

However, Anil Kumble, the Indian captain, was bullish on his fast bowling options. “Irfan has done well at Test level, VRV has played Test cricket and so has Ishant,” Kumble said. “It’s a great opportunity for the youngsters to ensure that they do well and seal a place for themselves.”

If only that was the end of his injury worries. Sachin Tendulkar aggravated a knee injury in Kolkata and Mahendra Singh Dhoni is still suffering from the ankle he strained during the final ODI in Jaipur. The indications, late on Friday evening, were that Dhoni - who played the first two Tests with a strapped ankle - would be rested for the game and Dinesh Karthik would keep, probably down the order.

All this, of course, means opportunities for Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj, especially, has been in outstanding one-day form and there is a school of thought that he now merits a place in the Test XI.

Pakistan are free of such worries. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, who both played in Kolkata despite being ill before the match, have recovered and their fast-bowling reserves have been strengthened by the arrival of Yasir Arafat and Rao Iftikhar Anjum.

The key factor, of course, will be Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan’s best bowler on the tour. He took six wickets in Delhi and two in Kolkata, despite being unfit, and the Indian batsmen have looked to see off his short spells before opening up against the other bowlers. The pitch for the third Test is expected to be different from the low and slow track at the Eden Gardens, and could offer assistance to the fast bowlers on the first couple of days.

Younis, though, sought to play down the team’s dependence on Shoaib. “Our winning is not dependent on him taking wickets,” Younis said. “He is a big player and the world’s fastest bowler so definitely he is an important player for us, but we also have Danish Kaneria, who can be a trump card in this match. [Mohammad] Sami has bowled well, but has not been lucky. This is not one-day cricket when you can run through a team in one spell.

“And we don’t put so much pressure on Shoaib Akhtar. We will try to see that he enjoys the game. In the last two Tests he has played well because there is no pressure on him and he has been able to play freely.”

There is one more issue at stake in this Test: it will be Kumble’s seventh on home turf but his first as India captain. He might be a veteran of 120 Tests but he acknowledged he would be “pretty emotional” when he goes out to toss on Saturday. “It’s very special, coming to Bangalore,” Kumble said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing here. I think I’ve spent more of the last 20-25 years of my life on this ground than at home so it’s very special.”

It will be even more special if he can lead his team in beating the Bangalore Bogey.

Teams (probable)
India: 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Dinesh Karthik, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sourav Ganguly, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Anil Kumble (capt), 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Pakistan: 1 Salman Butt, 2 Yasir Hameed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Faisal Iqbal, 7 Kamran Akmal, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Mohammad Sami, 10 Shoaib Akhtar, 11 Danish Kaneria.

Source:Cricket News

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