| Anil Kumble during practice in Kanpur on Thursday. (AFP)
Kanpur: Something of a return to the roots, it seems. Soon after landing here for the fifth and penultimate match of the one-day International series for the Pepsi Cup, the Pakistan team management has been flooded with requests to pay visits to the places where people ' with close or distant connections with the neighbouring nation ' are hoping for a tryst with destiny. Arrival of a host of fans from across the border has further ignited the already palpable passion, leading to Friday's battle at the Green Park.
Even the coach is feeling the pinch. The local McRobert Hospital ' where the Englishman Bob Woolmer was born in 1948 ' is ready to welcome their 'son of the soil' with a brand new birth certificate. It's another matter that the hectic schedule and crucial stage of the series may not allow Woolmer to go there.
But the real heat is elsewhere, though. If Pakistan fans are on a pilgrimage, their team on a mission, to prove a point. The job for India's stand-in captain Rahul Dravid is cut out for settling things in order.
The swagger of the 2-0 lead is a thing of the past. Pakistan's astonishing back-to-back resurgence ' Jamshedpur and Ahmedabad ' has threatened to hit Team India's confidence in a big way. The writing on the wall is clear, and Dravid, understandably, is not turning a Nelson's eye to it.
'The whole squad is facing a big challenge. The series is evenly balanced and everybody is looking forward to the contests ahead. One thing is certain that we can't afford to slip up anymore if we want to win the series,' Dravid pointed out on Thursday.
The seriousness in his call for rising to the occasion was earlier punctuated by the fact that his boys had practised for a shade under three hours at the ground, braving scorching heat and a nagging rumour that Sourav Ganguly could be flying in to join them at any time.
That didn't happen. But what did take place at the nets was Anil Kumble's relentless spirit in bowling and Dinesh Mongia's focus in holding the fort. Both are likely to feature in the XI on Friday and Ashish Nehra might have to sit out.
The pitch is believed to be primarily responsible for shifting Team India's focus from a three quick-pronged attack to the traditional reliance on spinners. The recovery from a side strain also makes Harbhajan Singh's case a strong one to replace Murali Kartik.
'The wicket is dry here and has a tradition of low bounce. Hence it won't help the quick bowlers much,' Dravid observed later, adding that the final team would be selected only after inspecting the track again on Friday morning. He, however, believed that under such conditions, Kumble's experience would come in handy.
Pakistan vice-captain Younis Khan agreed and promptly stated that taking first use of the pitch would be his team's preference.
It's, in fact, the rivals' batting, which is a cause of worry for Dravid. 'The (Pakistan) top-order has done remarkably well. Then in the middle-order, Inzamam-ul Haq, (Yousuf) Youhana and others are hurting us' We need to have our priorities in place,' the skipper felt.
Younis added another name to Dravid's worry-list: Shahid Afridi.. 'He may not be getting centuries, but his quickfire 30s and 40s have set us on track right from the word go,' he said of the dashing opener.
Younis, however, refused to believe that the momentum, gained from back-to-back wins, would give his team any advantage. As he maintained: 'In one-day cricket, momentum is momentary. It's performance on the day that matters most.' The truth in it is time-tested.
This is the first time the Green Park is playing host to the sub-continental rivals and for a change (Kanpur being a happy hunting ground for the hosts, with a 6-2 record), Dravid's men are under pressure. But nobody is complaining about this paradigm shift as long as the 'life' of the series is around.
Those, who only waited in the beeline but could not get to the visitors because of heavy security at the team hotel as well as the ground, are not complaining. At least, they have some friends around to get the story heard.
Amid all this, if Sourav, busy with his appeal, is missing the momentum, one man is cutting a solitary figure, mostly on personal front. It is John Wright's penultimate match as the Team India coach. But he too shouldn't be complaining as long as the spirit of the challenge and willingness to reach the target are taking the centrestage in Dravid & Co.
'In Ahmedabad, we played well only in patches. We've learnt from our mistakes in the last two matches and believe that same thing does not repeat here,' Dravid said.
Like Wright, we should also believe him.
India: Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Mongia, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji.
Pakistan: Salman Butt, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Inzamam-ul Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Mohammed Sami, Naved-ul Hasan, Danish Kaneria.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, K. Hariharan. TV: I. Shivram.
Match begins: 9 am