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India has no home advantage!
by Partab Ramchand
Nov 03, 2007
Wherever the two countries have played, Pakistan has the better record in ODIs. Astonishingly if India’s away record is bad with Pakistan holding a 13-10 lead in encounters between the two teams it is worse in this country where Pakistan are ahead 15-6. In fact on the last two tours of India when one day games have been played, Pakistan have emerged victorious in both – 5-1 in 1987 and 4-2 the last time out in 2005. So much for home advantage as the sides square off in a five-match series commencing in Guwahati from November 5. For good measure Pakistan hold a 36-24 advantage at neutral venues.

Tantalizingly though the teams are joint fourth in the latest ICC rankings and interestingly enough India and Pakistan have just finished playing matches against the two top ranked teams. While India lost 4-2 to Australia, Pakistan went down 3-2 to second placed South Africa. Certainly the two sides are coming into the contest match hardened and this augurs well for what should be a closely fought series that should put India and Pakistan in the right frame physically and mentally for the three Tests to follow.

But we shall discuss the Tests later. Right now the focus is on the ODIs and it is not easy to erase from one’s mind the last time the Indian and Pakistani teams met on the cricket field - the now famous Twenty20 World Cup final which India won by five runs. A few familiar faces missing from that line up will be taking the field for Fifty50 and one assumes that the tension and excitement always associated with India – Pakistan encounters will be very much prevalent.

On paper the teams look evenly matched and the rankings and recent results confirm this. But in encounters between India and Pakistan it is sometimes the mental strength that counts for more than cricketing ability. There is always a special aura surrounding India – Pakistan matches and the pressure sometimes gets to the players. However much the participants might want to play it down the media and the public hype up the games and subconsciously it gets to the cricketers. This also explains in part why so many India – Pakistan games have produced tight finishes.

Both teams are playing under relatively new captains and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Shoaib Malik will be the subject of much focus. It could all boil down to how they are able to get the best out of the players under their command for on both sides there are cricketers who are superstars and proven match winners. Shoaib Akhtar for example is back in the ranks after serving out his ban and his bowling in the final ODI against South Africa served enough notice that he has put the punishment behind him and he is hungry for more successes. With proper handling the temperamental fast bowler could be a key player in the series though admittedly the last minute withdrawal through injury of Mohammed Asif is a major blow. Still Umar Gul, Iftikhar Anjum and Sohail Tanvir can be expected to deliver the goods. The spin trio of Shahid Afridi, Malik and Abdur Rehman are not likely to bother the Indians but the Indian bowlers could face a tough task in trying to curb the run hungry Pakistan batsmen. The two Y’s – Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf – are arguably the most dangerous duo in ODIs and in support there is Malik, Afridi, Misbah ul Haq, Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal.

But then when one looks at the Indian line up it will quickly became obvious why the stage seems set for a mouth watering contest marked by sublime skills and high entertainment value. With Rahul Dravid out of the squad much focus will be centered round Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. The message to the duo from the Dilip Vengsarkar-led selection committee is clear – perform or go the Dravid way. How the two respond will be the subject of much interest. The Twenty20 World Cup triumph has made out a case for youth and the selectors appear to have an agenda already in place for the 2011 World Cup. And that is why the performances of Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa not to mention the skipper himself will gain a lot of importance.

The bowling too will be the subject of intense scrutiny. It looks like the Indian think tank has turned its back on the seven batsmen four bowler policy and has adopted the six batsmen five bowler policy. The return of Irfan Pathan and Murali Kartik seems to have ensured this and there is little doubt that the bowling looks much more balanced. The five bowler policy represents a refreshingly attacking approach. Indications are that India will field three pacemen and two spinners with two of the eight batsmen having to sit out. Under the circumstances it is fair that five seamers have been picked though from the Indian viewpoint it is clear that the spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Kartik will have a bigger role to play than the Pakistan spin trio.

I normally love to stick my neck out and make predictions. But I am playing it safe this time and will only predict a hell of a contest that could well go down to the wire.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
  India vs Australia - Batting and bowling worries for the hosts
  Future of Indian cricket is in good hands
  Future bright for Irfan Pathan
  Basil D'Oliveira was a mighty fine utility player
  Ashwin is a stayer, not a sprinter!
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