First Three Wickets Will Be Key: Gul

Sanjay Ganjoo/Mohali
First Three Wickets Will Be Key: Gul
Speedster Umar Gul, who has been in sparkling form in the World Cup, today said that India's first three wickets will be crucial to the outcome of Wednesday's India-Pakistan semifinal here.

Gul said Wednesday's match would be the battle between India's batting and Pakistan's bowling and his side are primed to end the four-match losing streak against their arch-rivals in the World Cup.

"Their (India's) batting line-up is very strong but our bowling is very good and equally up to the task. (Skipper Shahid) Afridi is the leading wicket-taker. We have a bit of an advantage with our bowling but I am happy with the way the batsmen played in the quarterfinal," Gul told reporters after his team's two-hour practice session.

"The first three wickets (of India) are very crucial for us. They (India) are depending on the top-three. I am in good form and am looking for these three wickets," said Gul, who has taken 14 wickets so far in the tournament, when asked about the plans of his team to tackle the explosive duo of Tendulkar and Sehwag.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had said that from the perspective of cricket fans, the India-Pakistan match is bigger than the final and Gul agreed with it.

"What he (Dhoni) said must have been not from his side but from the expectations of Indian people. From a player's perspective, no one would say this is bigger than the final. Our people also feel that we must beat India in each match. So from that perspective, it is a final for us too and we hope we can play well and beat India," Gul said.

"Whether it is a knockout match or a league match, any match against India is a big match always, a high-pressure match. The last time we played here, we chased 327 but it depends on how the wicket behaves. The average good score here will be 270-280," he said.

Pakistan have never won against India in a World Cup tie though they have beaten them at Mohali on previous two occasions, and Gul said history will have no bearing in Wednesday's match and his side would be looking to end the jinx.

"Hopefully, we will play good cricket and try and do what we have not done till now. Semifinal is a big match, big opportunity because both bowlers and batsmen are in good form. So we are hoping for the best," Gul said.

"The team morale is very high. I am hopeful the batting will also click and if we get a similar start like in the quarterfinals, I am sure we will do well," he said.

Gul also pitched in for retiring fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's inclusion in the playing eleven on Wednesday.

"He (Akhtar) is our most experienced bowler and he has done very well in the past, especially against India. A little bit of pressure will be lifted off me too if he plays because in the last couple of matches, when Shoaib was not there, all the pressure was on me. I hope he will do well for the team," Gul said of Akhtar.

He said the team is not angry with Akhtar and there was no rift among the players.

"No one is upset with Shoaib. We are very happy with him and it's a good thing that everyone is supporting him and we are united. There is no credence to such theories. It is just that he was rested after the New Zealand match so that he can focus on his fitness. The way he has been practicing for the last three days, I hope he will do well," he said.

Gul is hoping the PCA Stadium for Wednesday's match turns out to be a sporting one just like in the past matches here.

"We have seen the pitch but have not decided anything. We will only decide tomorrow. There is a fair bit of grass just now. On the basis of past results, it's always a sporting pitch and we hope it stays the same. It helps not just the bowlers but also the batsmen because you get good bounce," he said.

"We will come to know of it later and decide if dew will be a factor or not," said Gul when asked about dew factor.

Asked about the contribution of coach Waqar Younis and bowling coach Aaqib Javed, Gul said, "We have got a lot of help from them in this World Cup. Since New Zealand, Waqar told me that I would bowl with the new ball in the World Cup.

"For the last one and a half years, I was not able to deliver with the new ball because of which I lost my form. But in the last three months, I have worked very hard with them and got my new-ball skills back, which is good for the team.

"I always enjoy my bowling especially against India. At the moment I am feeling very well. I am at my peak of my form and I am feeling well. I hope that when Shoaib plays, it will be really good for me," Gul said.

During the past five-six months, Pakistan have managed to do well despite being rocked by scandals, and Gul gave credit to Shahid Afridi for uniting the team.

"The main thing is the dressing room atmosphere. Under Afridi's leadership, players support each other, backing those that are not performing, picking them up. The main thing is unity that has helped us come out of pressure. Before each match, we buck up and support each other," said Gul.

On Pakistan players not featuring in the IPL, Gul said, "I think we are looking forward to playing in the IPL. It's good for both the countries, especially the players, to be playing for each other. I think it's good."
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