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India better prepared

By Sanjay Rajan

DHAKA, FEB. 28. Ambati Rayudu's one-match suspension has come at an inopportune time for India. Considering his experience at this level — it is his third year with the junior National side — he will be sorely missed in the middle-order during the team's day/night semifinal clash against Pakistan in the under-19 cricket World Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium here on Sunday.

ICC Match Referee John Morrison hauled up the Indian captain for time-wasting tactics in the opening overs during the Super-League match against Sri Lanka two days ago. The hearing was held late on Friday evening. Wicketkeeper-batsman K. Dinesh Kaarthick has been named the stand-in skipper.

It came as a surprise that the Indian think-tank did not travel to the Fatullah Stadium on Friday as it missed an opportunity to assess its opponent in a different light. Pakistan had tasted its first defeat of the championship there, at the hands of England. And defeat is what brings to light the strengths and weaknesses of any side.

Watching Pakistan falter while chasing a small target, it was evident that while bowling is its strength, it is also a cover for its frail batting. This is precisely why the side opts to bowl first always. Its bowling has been truly dominant, restricting each of its six opposition so far to under 200. Riaz Afridi gets the ball to leave the right-hander consistently while Imran Pasha is predominantly an in-swing bowler with the delivery that straightens proving dangerous.

Skipper Khalid Latif has a standard operating formula. Afridi and Pasha bowl six and five overs at the start; one is brought back for a couple between the 30th and 40th overs while the other is re-introduced in the 44th and his partner joins him at the end.

Then there are off-spinners Salman Qadir and Tariq Mahmood, and leg-spinner Mohammad Amjad who are waiting expectantly to be brought on. They run through their overs miserly till the very end.

Coach Aaqib Javed put down the loss on Friday to the unpredictable bounce of the wicket. But the fact remains that England was the only side to have truly challenged Pakistan and under pressure the Pakistan batting — which is till No. 6 — collapsed. True, the lower-order staged a fightback. But the point is, would we have seen one, had the target been over 250?

India, in comparison, is a well-rounded side. It came out successfully through two crunch games against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, which goes to show that, unlike Pakistan, it is better prepared for a humdinger. Its batsmen, barring opener Robin Uthappa — a lot depends on him for a good start — have been among runs. The middle-order, which was a cause for concern to coach Robin Singh, came good when it mattered. And the other opener Shikhar Dhawan has been in roaring form.

The bowling has given India its winning edge so far. Left-arm seamer Rudra Pratap Singh is sharp and Gaurav Dhiman supportive. The spinners, left-arm Praveen Gupta, leg-spinner Abhishek Sharma and off-break Suresh Raina are experienced.

The pitch looks to be a belter. Singh said it would be an advantage to bat first. "We have played good cricket so far. It does not matter who the opposition is." Singh felt the ban on Rayudu was unwarranted. "It was a must-win match that ran close to start with. I mean, one needs time to think on the field."

The teams (from): India: K.Dinesh Kaarthick (capt.), S. Dhawan, A.R. Uthappa, R. Solanki, S. Raina, S. Singh, P. Waghela, G. Dhiman, R.P. Singh, P. Gupta, A. Sharma, V.R.V. Singh and N. Rathod.

Pakistan: K. Latif (capt.), U. Said, A. Zaheer, J. Mirza, S. Qadir, F. Alam, T. Mahmood, R. Afridi, Z. Haider, M. Amjad, A.I. Pasha, A. Ali, W. Riaz, and A. Iqbal.

Umpires: B. Doctrove & J. Lloyds. Third umpire: M. Rahman. Match referee: R. Mahanama.

Hours of play (IST): 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m., 5.15 p.m. to close.

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