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India likely to play 3 seamers
Abhijit Chatterjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
The start of a Test series is always a very testing time for any captain. It will be more so for Sourav Ganguly when his squad take on Pakistan, returning to play in India after six years, in the first Test beginning at the PCA Stadium in Mohali tomorrow.

Sourav knows that he and his team have to live up to the hopes and aspirations of the millions of cricket fans in India who would like them to repeat the performance of the squad which toured Pakistan last year.

The rivalry between the two teams probably pales the fight for the Ashes between England and Australia. Cricket is a religion in the subcontinent and this is understood by anybody who wears the colours of India, or for that matter, Pakistan.

The hype of Indiaís last tour of Pakistan is probably missing this time round but the intensity of the rivalry is as strong as ever. And both captains acknowledge it.

One thing going in Indiaís favour is that after a long time the team is at full strength. On the other hand, Souravís counterpart Inzamam-ul-Haq has not only to contend with the strong Indian team but also the fact that he has a very young team, low on experience.

To add to Inzamamís woes, his team has recently returned after receiving a 3-0 battering in Australia. Also, Pakistani pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar has opted out of the tour due to a hamstring injury. And at Dharamsala, where the Pakistanis had hoped to get some good match practice, a little over 100 overs could be bowled in three days of play with the weather playing spoilsport.

The Indians have already made up their mind on the kind of team they would like to play tomorrow, with the captain announcing that local star Yuvraj Singh and new ball bowler Ashish Nehra had been left out from the twelve. Sourav would like to make a final choice tomorrow morning after having a look at the pitch.

Given the kind of strip at the PCA Stadium, it is quite possible that the Indians might go into the game with three medium pacers and opt to play only one spinner.

Then in that case the final axe might fall on Harbhajan Singh, with the trio of Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathi Balaji, who was such a hit in Pakistan last year, handling the new ball and Anil Kumble the lone spinner in the playing eleven.

But playing three fast bowlers might be a dangerous gameplan which can backfire on the Indians since the match is scheduled to start at 10 in the morning. With the weather getting fairly warm, the late start is bound to dry up whatever moisture there is in the strip. The better option for Indian would be to play two fast bowlers and two spinners with Sourav doing the job of the third seamer.

Of course Indiaís strongest department is batting, where the spotlight will be on Sachin Tendulkar, who is on the threshold of two very important landmarks. With the likes of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, who has to resurrect his career, and the skipper himself in the squad, India have the luxury of forcing the pace of the game if they are hoping to force a result in the series opener.

The gameplan for Pakistan, according to their coach Bob Woolmer, whom even the opposition hold in very high esteem, would be to post a big total when they bat because that is the only way they can apply pressure on the opposition.

Teams (from):

India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Dinesh Kaarthick, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathi Balaji.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Salman Butt, Taufeeq Umar, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Asif Kamal, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, Naved-ul-Hasan Rana, Danish Kaneria, Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Khalil.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Darrell Hair (Australia). Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

Match observer: ML Nehru.

Hours of play: 10 am to 12 noon, 12.40 to 2.40 pm, 3 pm till close of play.

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