Lahore, March 23
Tied 2-2 in an ice-breaking series, the two arch rivals have everything to play for in the decider at the Gaddafi Stadium where India came from behind on Sunday to post a splendid five-wicket win. The showdown promises to be another high scoring encounter.
Paradoxically the Indian batting line-up, its reputation greatly enhanced after the recent exploits in Australia, is still not playing to its potential nor for that matter is Pakistan’s formidable bowling attack.
These worries will weigh on the minds of the contestants when they play before thousands and thousands of their boisterous fans.
Vice-captain Rahul Dravid is the only Indian batsman who has lived upto his tremendous reputation, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have played one excellent innings each in the four matches that have gone by, skipper Sourav Ganguly has touched 40 only once and VVS Laxman appears to be a shadow of the wrist artiste he was in Australia only weeks ago.
If the batting line-up really fires than India should clinch the series notwithstanding the bowling arsenal that Pakistan carries. The home bowlers are generally struggling and generously contributing to India’s totals through no balls and wides and other extras.
India’s dismal record in tournament finals has given them something to prove in tomorrow’s high-voltage decider and Ganguly and his men would be keen to break the jinx in this historic series which has generated considerable interest in the world.
The Indians have lost rather tamely in some finals in recent times and they would be hoping to put it across their arch rivals in what promises to be a thrilling contest under lights.
Apart from losing in the final of the World Cup last year, the Indians lost the triangular series final in Kolkata last November and again went down to Australia in the best-of-three finals earlier this year.
Indian vice-captain Rahul Dravid admitted that the team had not been able to play to its potential in crunch situations in the recent past.
“In the World Cup final and the tri-series final in Australia, we did not play anywhere near our potential. If we can play good cricket, winning and losing will take care of itself. I hope we can pick ourselves for Wednesday’s game,” Dravid said.
Coach John Wright is also conscious of the fact that his players have not responded to the challenge of crunch situations but would be pleased by the way the team fought back from a precarious position to clinch a five-wicket win in the last match at the same venue.
“We have not been able to finish off the tight games the way we wanted to do it in the past. But we want to change all that. We just have to play to our full potential,” Wright said.
“It’s better to lose in the final than not get there. But we have invariably lost to Australia and we have to do something about it. We have done very well against other teams,” he said.
The Indians will be heavily relying on Tendulkar and Sehwag to give the team a flying start, as they have done so often in the past, which would give the momentum for the other players to build up a huge total.
Barring the third match at Peshawar, all the other matches in the five-match series have witnessed high-scoring encounters and both the teams would try to post 300-plus total to put the side batting second under pressure.
Although Dravid has been consistent right through the series, none of the other frontline batsmen have more than one big score and would be keen to come good in the crucial match tomorrow.
Handicapped by the absence of four key bowlers — Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra — the Indian bowling lacks the sting to test the Pakistani batsmen on a placid track.
The form of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan has been a worrying factor although the left hander showed signs of improvement in the last match and he would be keen to get some kind of rhythm going for him tomorrow.
Pakistan: Inzamam-ul Haq (capt), Yasir Hameed, Shahid Afridi,
Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Abdul Razzak, Shoaib Malik, Moin Khan, Shoaib
Akhtar, Shabbir Ahmed, Mohammad Sami, Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat, Saqlain
Mushtaq. — PTI