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India hold psychological edge
Kunal Pradhan in Multan |
March 26, 2004 17:00 IST
When India arrived in Pakistan earlier this month, they had never won a series on Pakistani soil.
The visiting team, however, is gearing up for the historic opening Test starting on Sunday, their first in Pakistan since 1989-90, with a psychological advantage after clinching the one-day series 3-2, the first time in six attempts.
India have not won any of their 20 Tests in Pakistan, losing five and drawing 15, but the odds are stacked in their favour this time, on a tour with deep political overtones, because of a strong batting line-up led by Sachin Tendulkar.
The Indian government had in 2000 banned all home and away cricket between the two south Asian neighbours, but reversed the decision last year after a thaw in relations.
The current tour is seen as a symbol of improving relations and many hope cricket can prove to be the catalyst for enduring peace in the region.
India's one-day series win was well received in Lahore but, though the teams have promised to play the Test series in a spirit of good will, on the field the cricket has been as hard-fought and intense as expected.
Pakistan's main weapon is their fearsome attack led by the world's fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who is backed by pacemen Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed and experienced off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.
India's batting, however, showed in Australia where they drew a Test series 1-1 earlier this year after experts had predicted a 4-0 whitewash, that they are capable of handling top-quality bowling in difficult conditions.
Opener Virender Sehwag, V V S Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and captain Sourav Ganguly all struck Test centuries on the Australia tour.
India have an injury worry with Ganguly a doubtful starter after sustaining a back injury while fielding in Wednesday's deciding one-day international.
Ganguly's condition is still being analysed and a final word is expected only on Sunday morning. He could be replaced by aggressive left-hander Yuvraj Singh, who played his only Test against New Zealand at Mohali last year.
"It's great to start with a win in the one-day series," Ganguly said. "We hadn't won anything in Pakistan before, so the win was special. It gives us a boost for the test matches."
Vice-captain Dravid said he expected Pakistan to hit back in the Tests.
The home side's skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq is in prime form, named man-of-the-series in the one-dayers after two brilliant centuries, and the young Pakistani top-order of Yasir Hameed, Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat have made a great start to their Test careers.
The second Test of the three-match series will be played in Lahore (April 3-7) and the third in Rawalpindi (April 13-17).
"We expect three tough Test matches," Dravid said. "We've no illusions about how difficult the series is going to be."