India must overcome batting blues against Pakistan

Kolkata, Jan 2 (IANS) Struggling with the new rules and batting blues, India have their task cut out in a must-win second ODI of the three-match series against Pakistan here Thursday.

Down 0-1 after a comprehensive defeat in the Chennai opener, India go into the tie at the iconic Eden Gardens, trying to rebuild the team after the departure of some of their top stars -- the latest being batting great Sachin Tendulkar.

Leading a comparatively young side, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be keen on reproducing his Chennai batting form in a match where defeat would seal the series in favour of the Misbah-ul Haq-led Pakistan.

In the first game, Dhoni had struck a fighting unbeaten 113, though ultimately in a losing cause, after a top order collapse that saw India tottering at 29/5 at one stage.

Of particular worry to the Indian team management is the form of Virender Sehwag, who has aggregated only 216 at a sub-par average of 21.6 last year in the 50-over format. And the single-digit score (4) at Chennai has come at a time when he was expected to shoulder more burden after Tendulkar's retirement.

Runs have dried up from Rohit Sharma's blade too. The 25-year-old Mumbai batsman has managed a miserly 89 in his last 10 ODI innings.

Compounding the batting problems is Virat Kohli's right knee injury sustained during the first game of the series, and youngsters like Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja must be fancying their chances of taking on Pakistan at the Eden.

The absence of fast bowler Umesh Yadav has severely dented India's bowling prowess, forcing Dhoni to quip about the new ODI rule of allowing two bouncers per over: "Once we get fast bowlers like Umesh Yadav we will try to use it. As of now, we will keep that in our pocket."

Besides the bouncer rule, other changes introduced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and being tried in the series for the first time - two new balls from the two ends and allowing only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle at all times of the match - have also not found favour with Dhoni.

The Indian team feels that with five players inside the circle, the spinners will be at a big disadvantage, especially on flat wickets.

Also of concern for the hosts is the fact that they lack a genuine fast bowling all-rounder and have to use part-timers in the fifth bowler's slot.

Equally ill at ease with the rules is Misbah-ul Haq, though he feels that the fast bowlers would be affected more.

With the young fast bowler Junaid Khan, who rattled the Indian top order with a 4/43 effort in the previous outing, already being regarded as another Wasim Akram in the making, Misbah has every reason to feel confident about his bowling arsenal.

Besides dependable pacers Umar Gul and Mohammad Irfan, the visitors have in their ranks spinners of the calibre of Mohammed Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal and Shoaib Malik. The first two being all-rounders increases the batting options before the team management.

Among the willowers, 23-year-old opener Nasir Jamshed would strive to continue the momentum after cracking an unbeaten 101 to pilot Pakistan to victory at Chennai.

Younis Khan also struck a half-century in that match, while Misbah would hope to return among runs after falling cheaply in the series opener.

The Eden Gardens has been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan, who have won all three ODIs they have played here against India, beginning 1987. The visitors have fond memories of winning the MRF World Series (Nehru Cup) in 1989 defeating the West Indies in the final at the venue, where their only loss came in 1997 in the Independence Cup final against Sri Lanka.

The track has generated interest after veteran curator Prabir Mukherjee had slammed Dhoni for asking for a square turner in the Test match against England last month.

The wicket is the same used in the Test match, and Mukherjee said it would be a proper one-day strip assisting strokeplay. It would have bounce for the pacers, with spinners getting some purchase.

With dew being a problem during this part of the year at the Eden in day-night matches, the start of the match has been advanced to noon.

"During this time of the year you get some dew but with the availability of dew-fighting equipment, I don't think it would be a factor," said Mukherjee.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra and Shami Ahmed.

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail, Imran Farhat, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz and Zulfiqar Babar.

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