Now that the minor matter of limited overs cricket is behind us, you can literally hear my lips smack as the test series is about to begin.
I have not been able to decide on one clear cut prediction for this series. I am sure that India will not lose. But whether we will win or whether the series will be drawn, is soemthing I am unable to pin down.
The main reason for this is Pakistan's form in test matches over the past year. They have beaten South Africa in Pakistan, and have beaten New Zealand in New Zealand. What this shows us is that Pakistanis can bat. Their middle order might not be as fancied as India and Australia, but evidently, they get the job done.
So the key to victory for India will be to do what we did in Australia. Bat to our potential. Dravid is in amazing form, and Tendulkar, even in the ODIs, seemed to be preparing for the test series. He was not playing any extravagant shots, and was batting within himself, even though he did score at run-a-ball. His Sydney innings are proof that he has finally developed an appetite for long innings, like Rahul Dravid. He can now tell himself "Me Not Getting Out!!", even if that means cutting down on his favourite shots. Sure, fans will crib and keep saying "Sachin is in bad form", like Chappel did even when Sachin was batting on 200 odd. Let them. What matters is the number of runs. In terms of exquisite shots, Sachin has nothing to prove to anyone. In terms of big scores, he does, a little bit. This is his turn. A double (and dare I say triple going by his Sydney form) century in Pakistan will be poetic justice, considering it is here that he started his career.
Virender Sehwag looks to be in dangerous touch, He has another opportunity to silence the sceptics like he did during the Australia series. Laxman, with his knock in the finals, has clearly sorted out the Pakistani attack. I am sure that at the end of series, Inzamam will call up Steve Waugh and both will cry about how there is no clear way of getting Laxman out.
A wild card, at least in the first test, could be Yuvraj Singh. He got a century in each innings in the Duleep Trophy final, so he has been in form in the longer version of the game. All his dismissals in the ODI series were self-destructs. It means that Pakistan does not necessarily have a plan to dismiss him early on. If he gets in, the Pakistan could really pay.
In all this, we forget two blokes. Akash Chopra, who will be looking for his first century. And Parthiv Patel, whom even Gillespie and Lee could not stop from scoring.
The Indian bowling is vastly under-rated. The great thing is, as I said in my pevious post, the bench strength. Even if some fast bowler gets injured, the replacement is often as good, if not better. Even in Australia, India did not miss Zaheer much. So the line-up of Zaheer, Agarkar and Irfan will be a handful for Pakistan.
Anil Kumble will be a big advantage, for the simple reason that hardly any Pakistanis have played him before. Facing Kumble for the first time, that too on a subcontinent pitch, is not easy. Kumble will also be looking to reach the 400 wicket mark in this series, i.e he would love to take 20 scalps in the 3 tests. I just hope that Parthiv does not continue with his "1 stumping miss per inning" streak.
Now coming to the Pakistani batting. Inzamam is in great form, and he is going to be a pain in the wrong places. Captaincy has pushed his batting up a notch. Youhanna is in bad form now, and a return to form could be problematic since he can play big knocks. However I am not too impressed with the others. I am going to stick my neck out and predict a failure for Yasir Hameed. I just don't think his technique is good enough. The biggest flaw is that he does not have any shots for the delivery pitched on off or even middle-off. The first time I saw him, he seemed like a right-handed Ganguly, because he cuts so well off the deliveries pitched outside off-stump. However, he does not have the cover drive, or the drive down the ground that Ganguly has for the aforementioned balls. I am sure that John Wright has picked this up.
Taufeeq Umar's technique reminds me a bit of Justin Langer, and it will be interesting to see if Agarkar can make an lbw-bunny of him like he did to Langer. However Imran Farhat seems to be someone we need to watch out for. In the little that I saw of him in the past few months, at elast I could not detect a clear-cut weakness. However I trust Wright must have. In fact, Wright's Kiwi mates must have given him a lot of tips about the Pakistani batting lineup. Misbah-Ul-Haq, I do nto know anything about.
The Pakistani bowling!
Now I don't know if you people have noticed this, but pacemen from the subcontinent tend to attack the stumps, while those from Aus-SA etc attack the "outside-off" line. This may be because of the lack of assistance from the conditions. So both the Indian and Pakistani bowlers often get wickets by attacking the stump. This is where I think the Indian batting has an edge. Our batsmen can handle that line better than most. This is the reason why New Zealand can not play Shoaib and Sami. They just aren't used to someone attacking the stumps all the time.
We are. Shoaib may have his "one session burst" which could prove to be match winning. But I doubt if he has enough ammunition to be series-winning against our batting. However he is an intelligent bowlers, and Sehwag should not play him like he played Lee. Lee is basically an airhead and if you have hit him early on, you will keep hitting him all the time. Lee lacks the class to "come back" in a later spell. With Shoaib it is not so. He bowls each spell with a different plan, and he is always working on a plan. If Sehwag handles Shoaib with a bit of respect, I think he can get bucketfuls of runs.
Kaneria is decent, but I see him meeting the same fate as Stuart Macgill. And I do hope they play Saqlain Mushtaq who claims to ahve developed a "teesra" or something. We have to take revenge for the 99 debacle.
I don't see any other batsman having a problem with the Rawalpindi Express. There wll be the occasional dismissal for sure, but I don't see any bowler "dominating" the Indian batting.
And finally another place where we hold the edge over Pakistan is the place where we held an edge over Australia. We have a better captain (Ganguly haters who might leave a list of his mistakes in the comments box please note - I have said "better" captain, not "all time best"). And in close test matches, especially in the subcontinent, a captain can win the game. It was purely Wasim's captaincy that won Pakistan the Chennai test when Sachin was dismissed, and then later, the Calcutta test. Inzy, like Waugh, bats beautifully under pressure, but can he lead the fielding team well under pressure? Nope, in that matter too he is the same as Waugh.
So while most of the times I foresee an Indian win, only 2 reasons bring the possibility of a drawn series to my mind. One is the batting of Inzamam and second is the "one session burst" of Shoaib Akhtar.
P.S - If the latest ad by BJP proxy "Kamakshi Education Society" is any indication, it means that either the BJP does not know the first thing abotu Indian cricket, or they think that Indian cricket fans are idiots. The ad shows the winning moments of the Lahore ODI and it says "If an Indian captain can win abroad, who needs a foreign captain? A foreign captain for 100 crore Indians? NEVER!". The ad which obviously targets Sonia Gandhi forgets that the Indian team transformed only after a "Gori ChamDi", John Wright was appointed as the coach.
P.P.S - Don't you just hate the Indian cricket media? The only people more idiotic than them, are the umpires who stood in the Australia Series. I hope the umpiring will be consistent this time round.