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India seek to break Lahore jinx

January 12, 2006 15:06 IST

Last year's wounds still bleed, and a confident Pakistan team will be looking forward to make the most of the home advantage, as it seeks sweet revenge against India in the first of the three-match Test series that gets underway at the Gaddaffi Stadium in Lahore tomorrow.

Inzamam-ul Haq's side lost the home series 2-1 to India in 2004 but since then, Pakistan has staged a remarkable turnaround. A drawn series in India was followed by a splendid 2-0 victory over the 'Ashes' winning England team last month, and the home team is determined to keep the momentum going against India.

Given the chilly conditions -- and the magnificent form he displayed in the series against England -- Shoaib Akhtar may well hold the key to Pakistan's fortunes. His ability to run through the side will be crucial to Pakistan's chances against an Indian side which had both solidity and experience in what is an extremely formidable batting line-up.

In fact, one reason why the Indian batsmen thrived in their last tour here was the fact that Akhtar was taken to the cleaners by Virendra Sehwag, and Inzamam didn't fire as regularly as expected. Both, however, are in the form of their life now.

In his last seven Tests, Akhtar has picked 36 wickets at an average of 25.75. More importantly, he has worked hard on his fitness and stamina. Proof of it came in the last series against England where he bowled no less than 118 overs. It was the first time that he owled over 100 overs in a series.

As luck would have it, Akhtar's tormentor in the 2004 series -- Sehwag -- is struggling for runs at the top of the order and that may well turn out to be a big plus for the fast bowler who had a disappointing average of 58 runs per wicket in that series. At the moment, not only is Shoaib Akhtar fast and furious, but his slower delivery is also a major surprise weapon.

Given the fact that the pitch at Gaddaffi Stadium is likely to be a good batting track, Pakistan bowlers will have to make use of the early morning moisture and also the tried and tested reverse swing. Akhtar will have good support from Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.

Once again, skipper Inzamam-ul Haq will try and lead the batting from the front. One of the world's premier batsman over the years, Inzamam is also in ominous form with the bat, having scored 431 runs in the series against England.

The talented Salman Butt provides solidity as an opener while Younis Khan, Mohammed Yusuf, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal make for a more than useful batting line-up. Allrounder Abdul Razzak can also prove to be a handy bat at number six or seven.

As for India, Rahul Dravid will be looking forward to play a role similar to Inzamam-ul Haq. Like Inzamam, Dravid too is one of world's best batsmen with a great overseas record. And, in his first Test series as Indian captain, Dravid won't be short of motivation to turn it on.

His concern, however, will be the form of his openers Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir who haven't done anything significant in the series against Sri Lanka. Wasim Jaffer has been drafted in the side as yet another specialist opener. However, the Indians will have to leave out either Gambhir or Jaffer -- both of whom got half centuries in the warm-up game against Pakistan A --

from the starting eleven.

Then again, in Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, India probably has the world's strongest, and experienced, middle order.

While Tendulkar will be seeking fresh challenges on his third Test series in Pakistan after pocketing the world record for highest Test hundreds, Laxman would be keen to continue his good form.

Similarly, Yuvraj Singh will be looking to put a price on his wicket and score valuable runs at number six. For someone fighting for a middle order berth against a certain Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj has proved his worth by getting crucial runs in the last series.

Incidentally, Yuvraj scored a blazing hundred when India played here in 2004. The talented left-hander would thus be hoping to make the most of what is a lucky venue for him.

Although much talk in recent days has centered around Sourav Ganguly, the Indian team management will only take a call about the team composition in the evening.

Ganguly, a veteran of 86 Tests, was unceremoniously dropped from the side for the final Test against Sri Lanka. And much like his sacking, his inclusion into the team for this tour has indeed been a controversial one. He now has to compete with much younger, yet talented, colleagues for a place in the starting eleven.

In the bowling department, India will depend on the pace trio of Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan to make the most of the conditions. Besides, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will expect to deliver once the wicket undergoes wear and tear.

In fact, the series will see an interesting battle between leg spinners Kumble and Danish Kaneria. The classy Kumble has a wealth of experience, having played his 100th Test in the series against Sri Lanka while Kaneria is the new kid on the block with plenty of promise.

Lahore has been an unlucky venue for India since of the six India-Pakistan Tests held here, four have been drawn while Pakistan has won two.

The hosts will be looking to build on that fine record, while India would be hoping to break the jinx.

Teams (From among)

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul Haq (captain), Salman Butt, Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Rana Naved, Danish Kaneria, Imran Farhat, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Asif, Arshad Khan.

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virendra Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkat Sai Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Parthiv Patel.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Darrell Hair (Australia) Match Referee: Ranjan Madhugalle (Sri Lanka).