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Ramiz Raja

Kumble will be the man to watch

March 28, 2004

India go into the first Test brimming with confidence after becoming the first team from across the border to beat Pakistan on home soil in a one-day series. Winning is a habit, and the Indians will be hoping to repeat their success in the Tests as well.

The Indian think tank will also be pleased because they out-thought and out-planned Pakistan in the last two games of the series. So they will be confident when it comes to strategy.

The only factor going for Pakistan in this grim scenario is the fact that whenever they have been pushed into a corner, they have come back strongly. Media criticism and crowd pressure have often had a positive impact on the side, and perhaps these factors will spur them on this time as well.

We did well against both South Africa and New Zealand in Tests, so that will give the hosts some hope ahead of the series. The wickets in the series against South Africa were really sporting, but I am sure the wickets for the Tests against India will help the fast bowlers a little more than those wickets.

The only worry for the pacers will be the weather, because it has been unusually hot in Pakistan this year. Even if grass is left on the wicket, it might dry up soon, and it is going to be pretty tough for the curators to keep the pitch fast and lively right through the game.

Among the changes in the Pakistan side, Younis Khan has been replaced by Misbah-ul-Haq. Younis has not been very consistent in the last 12 months, and a break might do him some good at this stage. He is bound to make a comeback, and I think this harsh decision might be good for him in the long run.

My only concern is that the person who has replaced him, Misbah, has not been too consistent either. But Pakistan is not spoilt for choice when it comes to batting, so it is a case of making do with the restricted talent pool we have at the moment.

Danish Kaneria looks set to come into the side because he has been the sweetheart of the team and public over the last year. But some of the greatest spinners have been made to look ordinary by Indian batsmen, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge. Saqlain Mushtaq has an outside chance of replacing Danish, because he did trouble the Indians in 1999, but I would be surprised if Inzamam decides to drop the leggie.

Inzamam will once again be the main player for Pakistan. He has carried the batting on his shoulders in the one-dayers, and exudes a quiet confidence as he goes into the first Test. He will be playing in his hometown Multan, and this is where he rescued his side from the jaws of defeat and took it to victory against Bangladesh just a few months ago.

For the Indians, their bowling is the main concern. Irfan Pathan was the pick of the bowlers, and while Ganguly handled his bowlers well in the last two one-dayers, the fact is that he did not play the youngster in the first two. But after his performance in the last two games, it will be the teenager who will lead the Indian attack.

Rahul Dravid and his injured skipper will be happy to have the experienced Anil Kumble back as well. Ajit Agarkar is also back, so the Indian bowling looks a little more substantial than it did in the one-dayers.

I will watch Kumble with interest because he is a player who plays with his head. He is sure to respond to the intensity of an India-Pakistan Test by lifting his game. It's tough for a bowler to come back from injury straight into Test cricket, but I still think he will make a difference to the Indian attack from the first game itself.

Previous column: Laxman, Pathan foiled Pakistan
J Srinath's column: Cushion the bowling, not the batting

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