The Australians are not the only ones who play mind games on the eve of an important contest. The fad has been picked up by other teams if the utterances by Shoaib Malik are any indication. Speaking after the final ODI at Jaipur the Pakistan captain said that the victory had lifted team morale.
The Australians are not the only ones who play mind games on the eve of an important contest. The fad has been picked up by other teams if the utterances by Shoaib Malik are any indication. Speaking after the final ODI at Jaipur the Pakistan captain said that the victory had lifted team morale. "The dressing room mood is quite upbeat and though we have lost the ODI series, we go into the Test series at par with India." Not satisfied with that he aimed to put more pressure on the hosts by claiming that India would start with a slight disadvantage because they would have a new Test captain in Anil Kumble. "While I have been leading the side for quite a while he is starting afresh and though he is a great bowler I think we will start with an advantage."
I am not too sure whether Kumble will respond in kind. For one thing he is just starting out and perhaps will not like to indulge in such psychological warfare. Secondly he is not the kind of person who will lock horns off the field. A fiercely competitive cricketer even at the age of 37 Kumble will probably prefer to outwit Malik in matters of strategy and tactics on the field. Malik himself is under pressure like any Pakistan captain taking on India. Asked by reporters why he looked to be under so much pressure Malik lightheartedly brushed it aside. "Blame it on my face which could give you that impression. Inside I'm cool and relaxed. I know I'm leading Pakistan and I can't afford to lose my composure."
The fact remains that the 3-2 scoreline is a bit of a misnomer. India was clearly the dominant team in the series. Very early in the contest it became obvious that the visitors lacked the firepower to emulate their predecessors of 1987 and 2005 who went on win the ODI series by 5-1 and 4-2 margins.
In fact on the eve of the series there was a growing feeling among the experts that this is probably the weakest Pakistan team to tour India. While a final judgment will have to wait till the Test series is over there were enough indications in the ODIs to suggest that Pakistan will have a tough time in the three matches. There are certain inherent weaknesses in the side which the team management may not be able to cover up. The bowling in particular looks pretty vulnerable and if they could not exactly deliver in the shorter version of the game they will find it that much more difficult in Tests where the workload is that much more onerous. It remains to be seen how much Danish Kaneria will strengthen the attack. The leg spinner was pretty successful the last time out here when he picked up 19 wickets in three Tests and much will depend on him if Pakistan is to sustain a serious challenge.
Shoaib Akhtar will be the other bowler who could hold the key. There were spells of hostile bowling in the ODIs and he gave the impression that thunderbolts can be expected from him in the Tests. However Akhtar remains temperamental and unpredictable and his unimpressive record against India in the last two series played in Pakistan (he did not tour India in 2005 because of injury) cannot be a comforting factor. Confronted by the Indian batting might Akhtar given to moods can turn out to be a liability and this is where he will need careful handling by Malik.
There was however enough indication in the ODIs that Pakistan's batting is just as strong as India's. In the longer version of the game they could really make a pile and if Akhtar and company may face problems trying to bowl India out twice much the same can be said about Kumble and company. One remembers how in 2005 the visitors rattled up successive totals of 312, 496 for nine declared, 393, 226, 570 and 261 for two declared on their way to squaring the series most unexpectedly. Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf who must be the most prolific duo in international cricket had a successful tour last time out and are unlikely to miss out this time too. And if Inzamam is missing from the line up this time Pakistan still have the likes of Faisal Iqbal, Salman Butt, Misbah ul Haq, Kamran Akmal, Yasir Hameed and the captain himself to present a formidable challenge for the Indian bowlers.
From the Indian viewpoint the ODI victory will no doubt be a morale booster for the Tests. After all the last time the Indians won an ODI series against Pakistan in this country was 24 years ago. With Rahul Dravid dropped from the series and the selectors handing out a clear message to the seniors to perform or face the axe much of the focus was on Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. The latter perhaps succumbed to the pressure but Tendulkar batted in a manner that suggested that the end of the road is still some way off. So fluent was his batting - underlined by his series strike rate of almost 102 - that one wondered what the fuss was all about. Here is a master batsman who 18 years after he made his international debut still has the zest to perform, the hunger for success and the ability to make the technical adjustments that necessarily come with age. Yuvraj Singh enhanced his already exalted status and it is such a pity that when in the form of his life he still has to battle it out for a Test place. It was also a pity that Virender Sehwag could not be among the runs while continuing his comeback trail but making up for this was an immaculate knock played by young Rohit Sharma in one opportunity he got. He is clearly going to be an integral part of the Generation Next of Indian batsmen.
The Indians experimented with the line up throughout the series going in for both seven batsmen and four bowlers and six batsmen and five bowlers. The latter policy was the more successful going by the results. In the past I always favoured the Indians going in with 7 plus 4 but the return of Irfan Pathan and Murali Kartik has changed the scenario and perhaps these days 6 plus 5 would seem to be the better proposition. There is no such dilemma in the Test series that commences on November 22. It's always going to be seven batsmen and four bowlers and the latter will necessarily have to be two seam bowlers and two spinners. There are enough options among the 14 announced and it remains to be seen who makes the final cut.