Rejuvenated India starts favourite against Pakistan

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Mohali, Nov 7 (UNI) A charged up India, with one victory in their kitty, starts favourite as they take on tentative Pakistan in the second tie of the five-match series in a day-night clash here tomorrow.

Having already gone up 1-0 at Guwahati on Monday, the hosts will look to stretch their lead over Pakistan to tighten their strangle hold on the series.

The last time these two teams met at this venue back in April 1999, Pakistan beat India by seven wickets with Akhtar finishing with 2 for 18 from his alloted 10 overs. Overall, however, India have done well here, winning five of their seven games, and Dhoni' men will like to better that record.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, now virtually assured to take over as Test captain as well in view of Sachin Tendulkar refusal to take the post, will want to first ensure that he tightens his grip on this series. He has the wherewithal to do so, as the opening match result indicated.

The Australia series may have been lost 2-4, but clearly there have been lessons well taken from those encounters.

Dhoni, however, knows what he is talking when after the win against Pakistan he said, ''Australia are the best in the world. So when you come to a series after playing Australia, things look easier.'' It is evident that Pakistan are feeling the heat of those fires.

But coach Geoff Lawson is focussed, saying, ''We are here with a purpose and hope to come up with better showing tomorrow.'' At Guwahati it was, in every sense of the word, a composed and disciplined batting performance. There may have been the odd streaky edge by Gautam Gambhir, the occasional hear-in-the-mouth moment in the run-out of Sourav Ganguly and the near-dismissal of Yuvraj Singh, but overall it was a professional and competent showing by the Indians.

That is what the team management will be looking to fine-tune even further.

Because even on a less than ideal track like the one in Nehru Stadium at Guwahati Pakistan managed 239, which is not a bad score given the conditions. On better pitches, they have the potential to amass big scores, and the visitor's attack has enough ammunition and penetration to give India a run for their money.

As far as the hosts are concerned, Tendulkar will be keen to rediscover the rich vein of form that he hit in England, where he aggregated almost 600 runs.

Against the faster bowling of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and now Shoaib Akhtar however, he has struggled and will want to avoid the sort of error he made first up, playing across the line to Shoaib's extreme pace.

Behind him and Ganguly stands a line-up pushing hard for permanency. Gambhir has his captain's confidence and has already started to repay that. In Dhoni and Yuvraj, India have two of the most dangerous ''finishers'' in world cricket and Robin Uthappa is waiting for his moment.

More than the number of runs the Indians scored at Guwahati, it was the manner in which they gathered it was encouraging.

Poor running between the wickets has been Indian cricket's bane for many years now, but that is starting to change. In the field too, a couple of chances did go down, but the legs are getting increasingly younger, and faster. These are all signposts pointing in the correct direction.

Shoaib Malik and Geoff Lawson would have talked to the team long and hard after Guwahati. Other than Salman Butt, who seems to score most of his runs against India anyway, and Mohammad Yousuf, the batting was a disappointment. At least three others made starts and threw away the chance to consolidate.

Another 30-odd runs on the board and the opener would have been a touch and go affair and that is something Malik can take heart from.

Also he has a slightly more varied attack at his disposal than the Indians, the tipping card possibly being Akhtar.

All in all a cracker of contest in the offing, befitting the eve of Diwali.

Teams: India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain&wk), Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Murali Kartik, Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (captain), Younis Khan, Salman Butt, Imran Nazir, Yasir Hameed, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad Alam, Kamran Akmal (wk), Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Rao Iftikhar Anjum.


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