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Pak has better balanced side: Wright

Faisal Shariff in Peshawar | March 20, 2004 00:33 IST

A week is a long time, not just in politics but also in cricket.

Last weekend it was the Pakistani cricket team under pressure after losing the first Limited Overs International in Karachi.

Six days later, the same team is 2-1 up against India, and now the visitors are under pressure to try and level the series in the fourth LOI in Lahore before going for broke in the final match, also in Lahore, for the Samsung Trophy.

After scoring a massive 349 runs in the first game in Karachi and restricting the Pakistanis to 344, the Indians had seized the early advantage. With their powerful batting lineup, the Pakistani bowlers were always going to find it hard to contain them on the flat, subcontinental wickets.

But after losing the second LOI in Rawalpindi by 12 runs, the Indians lost their initial thrust. And with today's defeat in Peshawar, they have lost the lead as well and appear vulnerable on wickets with some juice. It doesn't take a genius to predict that the wicket in Lahore will have a healthy tinge of green.

Indian coach John Wright admitted that the Pakistanis used the conditions in Peshawar much better than his bowlers did. Despite having the hosts on the mat at 59-4, the Indians could not finish things off.

One reason, he pointed out, was that the conditions in the first hour and a half of the day, when the Indians batted, were different from what the Pakistanis faced late in the afternoon.

But he agreed that the Pakistanis handled the pressure better and also proved that their bowlers can be a handful when they get a little assistance from the wicket.

"They have more balance in their side with Abdur Razzaq," Wright added. "Our balance is different."

Though the Indian tail has been strengthened by Lakshmipathy Balaji's form with the bat, Ramesh Powar's induction at number eight, and Irfan Pathan at nine, it still lacks a genuine bowling all-rounder.

But Wright dismissed the argument that the extra pace generated by the Pakistani bowlers was the difference between the two sides. "Let's see how it ends," he warned.

Wright applauded Balaji's efforts in the last two games, saying, "It is very gratifying to see someone develop. Powar, Balaji and Pathan did a damn good job and I felt that they fought pretty well."

But there is no denying that India needs to get its bowling in order if it has to compete in Lahore.

Powar has done well with both bat and ball and should grab the opportunity in the absence of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Though the other spinner, Murali Kartik, played a crucial role in Karachi picking the wickets of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan when they appeared to be taking Pakistan to victory, he seems unlikely to regain his place in the playing eleven.

Today, Zaheer Khan was brought on as first change. What that means to him could play a crucial role in deciding the series.

After returning from injury, Khan has not quite regained cent per cent fitness and is still struggling to find his rhythm. His figures of 1-56 from nine overs today were disappointing, though a tad better than his outings in Karachi and Pindi.

Wright said Zaheer ran in a lot better in Peshawar than he did in the previous games and looks to be slowly getting back in the groove.

But for India it is imperative that Khan finds his groove soon because with Ashish Nehra out, the bowling simply lacks the experience to hold the Pakistanis down. Irfan Pathan is young and brave, ready to be taken for runs as long as he claims wickets. Balaji belongs to the old school, a subscriber to line and length and a genuine trier who never says die. But neither looks ready at this point in time to spearhead the attack. That responsibility can only be taken up by Zaheer Khan.

After the batting lineup's failure in Peshawar, it is unlikely that the Indians will fail so badly again in this LOI series. It is the bowling department that deserves immediate attention. With just two games left before the bigger battles start in Multan, Zaheer Khan will have to put up his hand.

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