| Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul Haq pose with the trophy in Multan on Saturday. (PTI)
Multan: Unless the Team India thinktank has a rethink overnight, the XI for the first Test will see three quicks, with Anil Kumble the sole specialist spinner. It’s a pointer as much towards how the wicket is expected to behave as to our attack’s changing face.
In fact, that a 3-1 combination was being contemplated was reported by The Telegraph on Saturday itself. Despite initial ‘misgivings’, Zaheer Khan has emerged a certainty, as also Irfan Pathan. The third slot is either going to be occupied by Ajit Agarkar or Lakshmipathy Balaji.
The decision, one understands, will be taken shortly before the toss. Apparently, Agarkar enjoys a slight edge. But... If there’s a combination-rethink, Murali Kartik is going to make it at the expense of a quick.
Incidentally, Pakistan too are set to field a 3-1 attack. In the home camp, though, the debate is over which spinner to omit — the experienced Saqlain Mushtaq (who has gone the Saeed Anwar way) or the emerging Danish Kaneria. Both have support within the thinktank.
The wicket at the Multan Cricket Stadium, prepared under Andy Atkinson’s supervision, had less grass on the match-eve than Friday, but promises enough bounce to excite the Shoaib Akhtars. Early on, it should seam quite a bit as well.
And, so, the captain winning the toss — stand-in Rahul Dravid or local icon Inzamam-ul Haq — may land himself in an awkward position. Pakistan, by the way, have won both previous Tests at the superb venue. Only, they were against Bangladesh and, in the second one (last year), Pakistan were on the verge of losing.
For the Indians, this is their first trip here in over 21 years, the last being on the 1982-83 tour when they lost an ODI at the old stadium. It’s not just a Revival Tour, then, it’s a revival of links with this dusty and oppressively hot Punjab city.
While Dravid feels the teams start evenly, Inzamam opined that the side “jo jaan laga ke khele ga” will emerge victorious. He added: “My team, of course, is balanced...”
Asked whether he would be under more pressure, given that his roots are in Multan and that he must lead from the front, Inzamam replied: “Some pressure is always there... I’ve done well at this ground (hundreds in both Tests versus Bangladesh) and hope the people are going to pray for me...”
Well, prayers alone won’t do the trick. As Pakistan coach Javed Miandad pointed out: “What matters is delivering in the middle... Reputations, records... They don’t mean much....”
Both teams had an excellent last series — the Indians drew 1-1 in Australia; Pakistan beat New Zealand (on their turf) 1-0. So, both won’t be short on Test-confidence. But, it’s not insignificant that, earlier in the week, Pakistan lost the ODI series.
With good reasons, it’s assumed that the duel will effectively be between the star-studded Indian batting and the high-on-ammunition Pakistani pace attack. The visitors, however, have been hit by regular captain Sourav Ganguly’s non-availability.
Sourav, who hurt himself fielding in Wednesday’s ODI decider at the Gaddafi, was looking for a “miracle” to enable him lead Team India out for the first time in a Test against Pakistan. No miracle occurred and Sourav has to live with this “crushing” turn of events.
Actually, for all the experience and class, the opening Test is going to be a test of character for Dravid and Co. He himself accepted that a good first session and day will be akin to making a strong statement.
And, yes, the stand-in captain concurred that growing in strength has much to do with posting handsome runs on the board. The agenda, so to say, is known.
Post script: Sourav is going to keep fingers crossed the next time Yuvraj Singh makes the Test squad. He was the beneficiary in Mohali and is making the XI here too.
TEAMS (As of Saturday night)
INDIA: Akash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S.Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar/Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan.
PAKISTAN: Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq/Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami and Shabbir Ahmed.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Simon Taufel.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Play starts: 10.30 am (IST).