| Sourav Ganguly shares a light moment with Javed Miandad at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Saturday. (Reuters)
Lahore: Young Itesham stood dazed as he was introduced to the Master Blaster this afternoon. Inzamam-ul Haq’s four-year-old son also seems to be a member of the Sachin Tendulkar fan club. The toddler accompanied his father to the Gaddafi Saturday afternoon and was the cynosure of all eyes during the teams’ nets.
Barely 24 hours before the clash that will decide India’s fate in the one-day series, the rival skippers appeared to be relaxed, though, Sourav Ganguly had that air of anxiety surrounding him. The bowling has been the team’s main concern in this series and 2-1 lead that Pakistan managed in Peshawar has only more raised doubts over its effectiveness.
The skipper was livid Friday and did not hide the frustrations on Saturday either. “To be honest I’m missing a spinner. Having to do without Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh is turning out to be big problem.
“It was so bad that Sachin Tendulkar and myself had to do the cover-up job for Ramesh Powar,” he said.
The spinners’ form has been a big worry and it was their inefficiency that has helped Pakistan wrest the advantage in the middle overs. This has proved decisive in both Rawalpindi and Peshawar and the thinktank has to sort out the problem to survive Sunday.
There is talk of including Murali Kartik once again as the thinktank feels that a left-arm spinner will be more effective than an offie.
The pitch has been the topic of much discussion. Like Peshawar it also has a tinge of grass but may not aid so much seam movement. The hot and humid weather here will favour the batsmen as will the afternoon start. The evening breeze, though, can help some movement.
It’s almost certain that whichever team wins the toss will opt for first strike.
“It will be a sporting wicket, good for positive cricket. Not the one where a team will be all out for 150 odd. Even the batters will have their chances,” Inzamam said.“Got some grass on it, looks a good batting track,” was Sourav’s opinion.
The pressures will obviously be there though Sourav tried to dismiss it saying, “when you play international cricket, you’ve got to cope with it.”
But having had the experience of playing Australia in their own backyard and now after facing Pakistan in their homeland, which did he think was tougher' “Australia,” pat came the reply.
Sourav, though, had very little headache about the batting Down Under. V.V.S. Laxman hasn’t yet struck form and that is upsetting the team’s plans. His inability to get the scoreboard moving after an early wicket in the first 15 overs has put more pressure on the middle-order.
Sourav himself has not been able to reach 50 in three matches and the indifferent showing of Mohammed Kaif hasn’t helped his cause either. Rahul Dravid, though, has been in his usual self and has shown the same determination and attitude that has made him Mr Dependable.
Pakistan’s batting worries have been slightly decreased by Yasir Hameed. His superb 98 Friday earned praise from his skipper. “He is very promising. If he continues in this way he will develop into a world-class batsman in two years.”
Sourav, though, was restrained in his praise. “It’s not fair to judge one after seeing him in five-six games. It should be done over a longer period of time.”
But the biggest gain from Peshawar has been their bowlers’ confidence. Shabbir Ahmed may have been the most successful but Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami have also been effective.If they can generate the same pace and movement, early loss of wickets will mean bad news for India. How the Indian openers live up to the challenge will decide the fate of the game and if they fire the home side may find it hard to live upto expectations.
Pakistan will also have to ensure that they maintain a good over-rate so that their skipper does not end up facing a ban. “I’m feeling the pressure while fielding,” Inzamam acknowledged. The Sachins might just step it up further on Sunday.
INDIA: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ramesh Powar/Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan.
PAKISTAN (likely): Yasir Hameed, Shahid Afridi, Yusuf Youhana, Inzamamul Haq, Younis Khan, Moin Khan, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami, Shabbir Ahmed.
Umpires: Simon Taufel and Asad Rauf.
Match timings (IST): 2.30 pm to 6 pm. 6.40 pm till close.