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Hint of grass lights up pacers’ eyes
- THIRD ODI - Sourav confident Pathan will make up for Nehra’s absence

Peshawar: The limited overs game is getting increasingly loaded in the batsmen’s favour, if the recent trend is any indication. A minimum of 300 is required for the team batting first to harbour any hopes.

It’s their batting prowess that has kept India and Pakistan locked at 1-1. The bowlers have struggled to hide their flaws, the skippers have put the blame on the pitches.

The small outfield at the Arbab Niaz Stadium is expected to keep the series of tall scores intact, but a hint of grass on the pitch promises better luck for pacers. The cool and windy conditions, together with the morning dew, will aid lateral movement but once the pitch settles down, batting will become easier.

The team batting second will have an advantage and, so, the captain winning the toss may decide to chase a target. “The ball will come on to the bat and the wicket will not be as batsmen-friendly as was been the case in Karachi and Rawalpindi,” promised curator Mohammed Bashir.

The Shoaib Akhtars and Zaheer Khans could spit fire, but only if they manage to strike the right line. This has not happened in the series so far and though Shoaib feels he “is not yet back to peak form,” the conditions may inspire him. Shoaib showed glimpses of his menacing self during the death overs of the second game and his first spell here could be a pointer for things to come.

The home side needs to prove that its bowling is, indeed, superior. Their showing has hardly evoked awe in the Indian batsmen and unless they prove themselves here, it is going to be very difficult to create a dent in the visitors’ confidence.

“There will be a bit of help for the bowlers,” Sourav agreed. “The ground is small and so there has to be some grass, otherwise it will leave no margin for error for the bowlers.

Irfan Pathan will replace the injured Ashish Nehra and the young left-arm pacer will get the chance to make a statement for the first time in the series. “Pathan was very good in Australia. There were a lot of questions when he did not find a place in the XI here. Unfortunately for him, Nehra had been bowling superbly. “Now that his chance has finally come, I expect him to deliver,” said Sourav, pinning high hopes on Pathan.

The morrow will tell whether Pathan can recapture his form Down Under on far less helpful tracks, but one thing’s sure — Nehra’s unavailability will be a big loss for the visitors. He seemed to have found his World Cup rhythm and was a key performer in the first two games.

Sourav, of course, sounded positive. “Injuries happen and you can’t keep worrying about it. It’s taken a toll on a lot of players.”

If the Indians are relying on the Zaheer-Lakshmipathy Balaji-Pathan trio, the hosts will be looking at the Shoaibs and Samis with hope. The bounce they can generate will be disturbing and the Sachin Tendulkars better watch out. Sachin has been in sparkling touch, as the Pakistan bowlers will testify from their experience the other night. With the unpredictable Virender Sehwag at the other end, the openers can upset all calculations. For V.V.S. Laxman and Yuvraj Singh, this can be the ideal setting to stamp their class.

The Pakistanis will have to tackle the additional pressure of having to go through their overs in the stipulated time or else risk a ban on their skipper. Inzamam has already been fined 80 per cent of his match fees for slow over-rate, a Level II offence, and a repeat will mean a suspension.

The problem is, the fast bowlers going flat out will also mean taking extra minutes. They’ll need to strike the right balance between effort and time.

Yusuf Youhana, however, felt differently. “The bowling side favours completing the overs fast. That way, you don’t disturb your rhythm and there is also very little time for the batsmen to relax.”

Manager Haroon Rashid said: “Sourav was speaking in his personal capacity when he termed the (slow over-rate) rule as ridiculous. It’s been agreed upon by all cricketing nations. The bottomline is to complete the overs fast.”

Youhana didn’t have an encouraging message for the bowlers. “I haven’t played much here, but going by the looks it seems to be another belter,” he commented. Let’s not dismiss Youhana in a hurry. After all, one Mr Mark Taylor had scored that historic unbeaten 334 at this very ground five seasons ago.

TEAMS

India: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan.

Pakistan (likely): Yasir Hameed, Shahid Afridi, Yusuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul Haq, Younis Khan, Moin Khan, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami, Shabbir Ahmed.

Umpires: David Shepherd and Nadeem Gouri. Match timings (IST): 10 am to 1.30 pm, 2.10 pm till end of play.

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