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Another high-scoring match on the cards

By S. Dinakar

Yuvraj Singh is charged up after scoring a point as Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Hemang Badani look on during a game of volleyball. - Photo: S. Subramanium

PESHAWAR, MARCH 18. Inzamam-ul-Haq has to act fast over slow over-rate. And both the captains have to respond quickly to check the speeding opposition run-rates.

With the five-match Samsung series balanced at 1-1, the cricket caravan moves to this exotic city on the mouth of the Khyber Pass. The third match, at the Arbab Niaz Stadium, on Friday could prove as competitive as the first two.

The pitch appears to have a fair share of grass, although it remains to be seen how much of it will actually remain on the morning of the match. This is a small ground, the boundaries are short, and there might be no dearth of fours and sixes.

If the tinge of green stays on the pitch, there could be a measure of assistance for the pacemen and and we might finally have a more even contest between the bat and the ball.

Now to Inzamam's problems. If, under his captaincy, Pakistan comes up short by more than two overs over the next 12 months, he faces a ban of up to four Tests or eight ODIs; the punishment is at the discretion of the match referee.

After being fined 20 per cent of his match fee in the first ODI in Karachi - the team shelled out ten per cent - and foregoing 80 per cent of his match fee in Rawalpindi - the other members of the side coughed up 20 per cent - the Pakistan captain is walking on thin ice.

As long as the number of overs short does not exceed two, the team and the captain can get away paying a fine. Once it exceeds that, harsher penalties come into effect, with the captain having to bear the responsibility.

Inzamam in a spot

Speaking to presspersons on this issue, the Pakistan manager Haroon Rashid conceded that Inzamam was in a tough spot but felt the team could overcome the danger to its skipper by adhering to the basics. "The bowlers will have to be economical in their follow through, they will have to walk back to the mark quickly, and the fielders will have to get back to their positions faster. Simple things like this can make a difference,'' he said.

He was also of the opinion that since the first two games were such high-scoring affairs, the ball crossed the boundary more often, and the time taken by the fielders to fetch it consumed a longer time.

The Pakistan manager accepted that getting through the overs quickly was always a better option for any team. "If you bowl at a good rate, it keeps the pressure on the batsmen. They do not have the time to relax."

The new playing conditions of the International Cricket Council, in the area of over-rates, came into effect from the Sharjah three-nation tournament from April 2003. Now overs are not deleted as was the case earlier; the responsibility is on the captains who are fined twice the penalty amount or more - to ensure that the quota of overs is completed on time.

Sourav Ganguly too was docked 20 per cent of his match fee in the first ODI, but the Indians finished their overs on time in Rawalpindi. However, the Indian bowling worry does not end there.

The Indian bowlers, like their Pakistani counterparts, have conceded in excess of 300 runs in both the matches so far. In Peshawar, the Indian bowling will be weakened further by the absence of left-arm paceman Aashish Nehra, the form bowler for India.

Indian bowlers under pressure

Now with Nehra out of the series with a split webbing, and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan struggling to discover rhythm, the Indian bowling will be under even more pressure. Said Ganguly to presspersons on Thursday - "Zaheer looked good at the practice session yesterday." On injuries, he said, "they do happen. We played a big series in Australia, and that has taken a toll on some of the players."

Left-arm paceman Irfan Pathan is certain to take Nehra's place in the eleven and Ganguly said he "expected the youngster to deliver." Pathan made quite an impression in Australia with his zestful bowling.

Ganguly also denied saying anything adverse about Pakistani paceman Shoaib Akhtar's action - "I just said that you can judge it for yourself on television."

The Indian batting has been booming although classy middle-order batsman V.V.S. Laxman is due for runs. How the Indian bowling fares could again hold the key to the contest.

Pakistan vice-captain Yousuf Youhana said though much of the limelight has been on the Indian batsmen, following their exploits in Australia, but the Pakistani batsmen have matched them so far.

The return of the flamboyant Shahid Afridi has added sting to the Pakistani batting, while providing more variety to the bowling. Strokeful opener Taufeeq Umar has been included in the squad, but it remains to be seen if he finds a place, taking into account the profitable first wicket stand between Afridi and Yasir Hameed in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistani pace duo of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami combined more effectively in Pindi - it was a crucial strike when Sami breached the in-form Rahul Dravid's defence - and will carry much of the home team's hopes with them.

The teams (from):

India: Sourav Ganguly (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, L. Balaji, Murali Kartik, Hemang Badani and Parthiv Patel. Coach: John Wright.

Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt.), Shahid Afridi, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Moin Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Malik, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami, Shabbir Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Imran Farhat, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Taufeeq Umar. Coach: Javed Miandad.

Umpires: David Shepherd and Nadeem Ghouri. Third umpire: Asad Rauf. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Hours of play: From 10 a.m. (IST) to 1.30 p.m. & from 2.15 p.m., till end of match.

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