Islamabad, March 15: Depletion of strength on and off the field. That’s the Indian story on the eve of the second one-dayer tomorrow.
Captain Sourav Ganguly may not be available for the match — a possibility that can be mentioned with far greater certainty for Karachi’s last-over hero, Ashish Nehra, who has an ankle injury.
Off the field, the Indians will be missing the full-throated support of Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi, who will not be around, having conveyed their best wishes for the rest of the tour to the players in Karachi. The two spent nearly 15 minutes with the cricketers after Saturday’s victory.
Sourav, who was running a mild temperature yesterday, was down with a throat infection today. “I’m feeling very weak. The fever hasn’t subsided,” Sourav, who is still confident of playing tomorrow, told The Telegraph.
The skipper arrived late at the ground and skipped practice this evening. A doctor examined him at the hotel room in the afternoon and ruled out anything serious.
Vice-captain Rahul Dravid, who addressed the match-eve media conference, said: “Sourav should be okay. We’ll assess his condition in the morning.”
Dravid saw little chance of Nehra playing at the Rawalpindi Stadium, but efforts were still being made to get him fit. The left-arm medium pacer, who held his nerve in the 50th over to bowl India to victory, has a “swollen right ankle”. He had undergone an operation in the same region after the World Cup.
Nehra bowled at the nets today, though from a short run-up.
The good news is that V.V.S. Laxman is fit and will play.
The outcome of the match could well decide the battle over the series — a victory will take the visitors’ confidence level to greater heights while a loss could see Pakistan wrest back the advantage.
“The first match was always very important. A win has meant that we can now put them under pressure,” Sourav said.
Pakistan is going to come hard, looking for revenge, and especially Shoaib Akhtar, who didn’t bowl too well in Karachi. He plays his 100th one-dayer tomorrow, which could add some more edge to his fiery bowling. “I am totally focused on keeping the runs down this time.”
India has bowling worries, though Sourav did not agree that the pacers bowled badly throughout in Karachi. “We did pretty well in the first 15 overs. Then, as Murali (Kartik) came on, the Pakistan batsmen attacked, aided by a very fast outfield. That upset the whole process,” he said.
It remains to be seen how much of a difference Ramesh Powar, the off-spinner, makes on debut tomorrow.
Pakistan’s coach Javed Miandad has dismissed the Karachi show as “a bad day in office”. “We’ve worked very hard on our shortcomings and hopefully things will be okay,” he said.
Miandad, however, is ready for the worst. “Anything can happen in one-day cricket. But experience shows that in a series of such intensity things remain pretty open till the end.”
Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali will watch the match and the local authorities have made an unprecedented appeal to the crowd to act as good hosts, as Karachi did.
Dravid, who received a standing ovation as he walked to the pavilion after scoring 99, said: “The crowd was very appreciative. They responded very well.”
“Please remember every individual represents the whole country and his good demeanour reflects the proud national character. Please be mindful of that,” the appeal by the district government said.