The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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50:50 in Multan battle, minus general

Multan, March 27: Losing the captain at any time is bad enough. It’s worse when that comes about on the eve of a Test series, that too against Pakistan. And, during a Revival Tour.

“Of course, I’m confident we’ll do well,” Sourav Ganguly told The Telegraph, giving the state-of-the-art Multan Cricket Stadium (15 km from the city centre) an appreciative look. Yet, nobody quite believes the regular Team India captain’s absence won’t make a difference.

The opposition is more than convinced it will.

“We’ll try to take advantage of Sourav’s absence.... Any team would do so,” acknowledged Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq. Incidentally, his roots are in Multan and the cricket fraternity has saluted his contribution by naming the pavilion after him.

It’s not that Rahul Dravid, standing in for the second time in a shade over five months, is going to be found wanting. But, whatever his few remaining critics may say, Sourav’s leadership is distinctive: Passionate and inspirational.

For his part, Dravid is “prepared” for the rather heavy demands. “Having been vice-captain for some years, I’ve had a role in strategy.... I’ve been making a contribution to our game plan,” he pointed out.

Dravid, however, will be hoping he has better personal luck than when he did the job in Mohali, versus New Zealand. After all, he failed in both innings (13 and 5) and dropped catches. In fact, but for V.V.S. Laxman’s brilliance, that Test could have gone the Black Caps’ way.

Actually, Sourav’s absence has cancelled out the psychological advantage gained by winning the ODIs. It’s not that Test cricket is quite the same as the limited overs action, but irrespective of Dravid’s views — “I’m not for the psychological stuff and so on” — a victory (equally, a defeat) does impact on the mindset.

In Dravid’s opinion, the teams start evenly: “Fifty-fifty.”

While the previous bilateral Test series was five years ago, both India and Pakistan rose above the script in their last appearance anywhere — India in Australia, Pakistan in New Zealand. Yet, it remains to be seen how much of that is going to influence the three-match series beginning tomorrow.

For the millionth time, Sachin Tendulkar will be the cynosure. Among the many reasons one being he is the sole survivor from the last Indo-Pak Test in Pakistan (Sialkot, over 14 years ago).

Characteristically, he is cool. “I believe in keeping things simple.... It won’t be any different this time.... Am I under more pressure' No.... There are others also to take care of that.... Basically, we must think positively and allow the positive energy to flow,” he said.

That’s not complicated: What we really need to make is an excellent first day impression. Thus far, no Indian side has ever won a Test in Pakistan.

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