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India, Pakistan braced for showdown
November 04, 2007 15:32 IST
Distracted Pakistan begin another high-voltage tour of India amid tight security on Monday when the one-day international series between the two fallen former World Cup champions gets underway.
Pakistan will kick off the five-game series barely 48 hours after emergency rule was imposed back home on Saturday. They will also feature in three Tests.
The traditional politically-charged atmosphere has eased this time, largely because the teams have faced each other annually since 2004, when India toured Pakistan for the first time in 14 years.
Having made shock first round World Cup exits in March, Pakistan lost to South Africa and India were defeated by champions Australia in home one-day series last month.
Pakistan, who won the one-day series 4-2 on their last tour in 2005, want to avenge their Twenty20 World Cup final defeat in September.
All eyes will be on controversial Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar [Images] after he grabbed four wickets against South Africa on his return from a 13-game ban for hitting fellow paceman Mohammad Asif [Images] with a bat.
The accurate Asif has been sidelined and has stayed home with an elbow injury, leaving the temperamental Akhtar to team up with fellow pacemen Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar and Sohail Tanvir.
Former skipper Inzamam-ul Haq, who will turn a TV pundit for the series, says he hopes 32-year-old Akhtar will remain focussed on the job.
"If he keeps playing, that itself will make a difference," he said.
India will be hoping for better behaviour from paceman Shanthakumaran Sreesanth [Images] after his repeated on-pitch clashes with Australian players.
India have also faced a national debate over former skipper Rahul Dravid's [Images] omission for the first two games due to poor form, after he abruptly gave up captaincy before the Australia series.
However, Indian cricket manager Lalchand Rajput hopes the players will draw inspiration from winning the last one-dayer and a Twenty20 tie against Australia.
"We played as a team and the way the team fought from behind has pushed the morale high," he said.
Pakistan vice-captain Younis Khan felt Dravid's absence would only help the visitors.
He said: "If India lose both the games, what will be the mental state of the nation?"
A massive security cordon has been thrown around the Nehru stadium in Guwahati, the main city in India's restive northeast.
The ground was given the go-ahead to stage the tie after an inquiry into an incident in April last year, when fans angry at the abandonment of a ODI against England [Images] went on the riot.