Pace power places Pakistan favourites

The visitors have never lost to India in an ODI at the Eden Gardens.

Junaid Khan's left-arm pace destroyed India in the first ODI.KOLKATA: Indian cricket is presently like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Following a season of grave discontent and failure the hosts are now a match away from surrendering the three-ODI contest against Pakistan. The scene for the second game is the Eden Gardens, a venue at which Pakistan have not lost to India in the three matches they've contested here. And with the home team appearing woefully ragged in all departments, the neighbours would look to clinch the competition here and now.

India lost half their side for 29 to Pakistan’s terrorizing left-arm fast bowling in Chennai’s opener. Had it not been for skipper MS Dhoni's defiant century, they could well have been bundled out for less than 100, as none of the top order batsmen had a clue to what Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan were hurling at them.  When the chase began India found themselves a bowler short, and the part-timers were clobbered mercilessly – something that tilted the scales Pakistan’s way in a match where runs were at a premium.

That Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag dropped what could have been match-winning catches proved as big a deterrent to home hopes as the forms of their opening batsmen. To a layperson, a through hacking of the eleven would appear to be on the cards. But India’s selection policies are governed by inexplicable, other-worldly clauses, so don’t expect an entirely new-look team at Kolkata. There are still some glaring pointers which the selectors would do well to follow.

Open with Ashwin

For some time now, Ravinchandran Ashwin has looked like India’s most technically correct batsman and with the disarray that the top order finds itself in, the tall off-spinner has been repeatedly sought to contribute runs at his standard No.8 position. This makes it rather obvious that Ashwin should come up the order. But how far up the order? In our humble opinion he should open the innings as a methodical foil to a more aggressive opening partner. Send him out with Virender Sehwag, who is not having an especially good time, and boot out Gautam Gambhir, who has looked as comfortable as a rookie fakir on a bed of nails.

The thing with batsmen like Sehwag and Yuvraj is that they are decisive if and when they click, and that is a chance worth taking for any team. Yuvraj has been handy with his left-arm spin too, although Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina – in their joint role of a fifth bowler – were hit at the most inappropriate times. The opening with Ashwin solution, although it would allow for accommodating a fifth bowler, might be too radical, but it is imperative that either Gambhir or the equally under-performing Rohit Sharma be replaced by Ajinkya Rahane for the second ODI.

Mohammad Irfan doubtful

Pakistan strapping fast bowlers obliterated India at Chennai. Once Junaid and Irfan had cleaned up the top, the visitors committed just one folly – when skipper Misbah ul Haq dropped his counterpart Dhoni on 16. India’a fate would have been much worse had the catch been taken. But Pakistan too benefited from reprieves when they batted, and also from at least two favorable umpiring decisions. Their batting still appears to be prone to collapse. The in-form Mohammad Hafeez made a first-ball duck in the first match, and Nasir Jamshed’s hundred was speckled with rued chances. Misbah’s dismissal almost sparked an implosion, before Shoaib Malik, also the beneficiary of a dropped catch – saw them home. 

On paper the middle order conveys solidity - with Younis Khan, Misbah and the lethal Kamran Akmal all waiting to be counted. Pakistan may opt to sit out Irfan from the Kolkata fixture as the seven-footer strained his hamstring in the opening encounter. He may be replaced with Wahab Riaz, another left-arm fast bowler, a breed that is apparently flourishing across the border. Pakistan also have an enviable record at Eden. They have not lost to India in three ODIs here and will seek a series-deciding result once the game commences at noon on Thursday.

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