Monday, November 29, 1999

Electrifying India-Pak face off in offing

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It will be a battle of attrition when arch rivals India and Pakistan resume their high-voltage cricketing rivalry after eight months in an Asia Cup match.The battle lines have been drawn for what is regarded as most sought-after match in world cricket, which dwarfs the interest evinced even in the Ashes series between England and Australia.Though the wicket is not ideal for an ODI, it should produce an electrifying contest as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Shahid Afridi's men fight for supremacy at the Rangiri Dambulla international stadium.The last time the teams met across the square, Pakistan had the measure of India in the Champions Trophy in South Africa last September and Dhoni's legion would be aching for revenge.Pakistan are known to be dangerously volatile when put in a do-or-die situation, as is the situation now after they lost their first match to Sri Lanka.A determined and aggressive Afridi could spoil India's party if he cuts loose in the middle, as he did against the Lankans.The Akmal brothers, Umar and Kamran, are immensely capable of turning the match on its head when the chips are down. Salman Butt and Shoaib Malik also have the reputation to destroy any attack on their day.But man to man, India have a superior batting unit. Unlike Pakistan, India have a deep batting line-up, with Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan capable of pulling their side out of crisis.But it will be interesting to see how Virender Sehwag responds to the Pakistan challenge. On return from a shoulder injury, he made 11 against Bangladesh, struggling to move back and across the stumps during his 14-ball tenure at the square.Gautam Gambhir worked hard for his 82 against Bangladesh, but would carry the confidence of spending time in the middle into the game against Pakistan.A determined Dhoni was also among the runs (38 not out in 45 balls). Gambhir and Dhoni's form aside, India would need significant contributions from Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to win this game.Both teams have a reasonably good bowling line-up. If Shoaib Akthar, who hobbled out with a strained left knee after a practice session, finds the rhythm which had deserted him in the game against Lanka, it would be an intense contest in the middle.

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