Fresh after a marvellous victory in the Karachi Test, Pakistan start off as firm favourites for the one-day series that begins in Peshawar from tomorrow.
Nevertheless, the one-day series is not going to be easy for Pakistan and they will once again have to be at their best to beat a rejuvenated India who must be aiming to not only avenge for the third Test defeat but also the 4-2 defeat against Pakistan in their backyard last year.
India have a very solid and effective batting lineup but they lack when it comes to quality all-rounders and a penetrative bowling attack to back the batting. Which means, the pressure will be on the batsmen most of the time to either score more than 300 runs in every game or be prepared to chase a target of over 300.
I believe in modern day one-day cricket, quality all-rounders are extremely essential because they not only bolster the batting but also give the captain more bowling options. Unfortunately, I don't see any genuine all-rounder in the Indian lineup in the same class as Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. Irfan Pathan has improved tremendously in the last year or so but he needs to prove himself further to be bracketed alongside other world class all-rounders.
Here, Sourav Ganguly could have been useful because of his ability to bowl a few overs besides his rich experience with the bat.
It is a mind boggling decision to drop someone of the experience of Sourav who not only has scored over 10,000 one-day runs but is better equipped to handle the enormous pressure that is always there when Pakistan and India are involved.
But if the Indian selectors can be so foolish to kick Sourav in the teeth by announcing his ouster from the one-day squad on a day when he was going out to bat for his country, they are capable of any atrocious decision.
Besides the batting, India are also a better fielding side and Mohammad Kaif's return would further lift the spirits of the players. Kaif is a wonderful and vibrant character, more or less like Jonty Rhodes who may not always be among runs, but would bring off spectacular saves, pull off stunners or run out a batsman from zero angle.
I still remember the catch he took to dismiss Shoaib Malik in the Karachi one-dayer at a stage when we were cruising nicely in pursuit of 344. The catch turned the match on its head and we lost by six runs.
India's strength would again be its devastating opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Sehwag, as we know, is a ruthless striker of the cricket ball while Sachin is more calculating and careful in his stroke selection. However, it is to be seen how Sachin responds after failing in the Test series, though I believe he would be amongst runs because of easy wickets and field restrictions.
But the most important thing for India is how quickly they can put behind the defeat in Karachi.
Pakistan, on the contrary, are on a roll. They defeated India in India last year, blanked the West Indies in West Indies and then won 3-2 against England. And when they are in this momentum and mood, they are hard to stop.
The return of Inzamam-ul Haq would further strengthen the batting and of course, the command in the field will also improve. While saying this I don't mean that Younis Khan didn't do well in the Karachi Test but the bottomline is that Inzamam has now learnt the art of captaincy and is accustomed to those overs calculations, fielding placings and bowling changes that are crucial in one-day cricket.
I have always believed that Pakistan is a far superior team when it comes to one-day cricket because of the all-rounders they have. In fact, Pakistan have always been lucky when it comes to all-rounders -- be it Imran Khan, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Akram, Aamir Sohail or Azhar Mahmood.
The decision to persist with Kamran Akmal on top of the order is a nice cricketing move because Pakistan can make optimum use of the man in form besides creating an additional place for an all-rounder in the lower order. Let's hope Pakistan continue with this policy even if it backfires a couple of times.
In Peshawar, the ball will seam a little bit in the first 15 overs before becoming easier for the batsmen. The same can be said about Rawalpindi but Lahore, Multan and Karachi -- the venues of the last three games -- should be perfect for batsmen.
The other point to be emphasised is that just two games would be played under lights. Well, lights will only be used for the last hour or so as the day/night games would start only 90 minutes late than scheduled start of 9.30 am.
I also believe that the Pakistan Cricket Board has done the right thing by starting the one-day series from Peshawar and then moving to Rawalpindi. If you remember, we won our only games against India two years back on these centres. It is always nice and morale boosting for the home team to start the series where they have beaten their opponents the last time around.
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