The pitch, of late, has favoured the batsmen; dew factor may come into play

All roads will lead to the Punjab Cricket Association ground here on Wednesday when sub-continental giants India and Pakistan face-off in the second semifinal of ICC World Cup.

The game will probe the character, nerve and skill of the cricketers in question. 'Belief' will be a key word.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men start as favourite. But then, the Shahid Afridi-led Pakistan is neither short of ability nor motivation.

Let's look at the factors that could influence this high-pressure match-up.

The pitch: By the time the match commences, the surface is likely to be devoid of any grass. The pitch here has generally offered decent carry and a measure of seam movement to the pacemen. Lately in the ODIs here though, the surface has favoured batsmen. The ball comes on to the bat on this clay-based pitch and the outfield is quick.

Hope for spinners

Would there be any assistance for the spinners, at least in the second half of the contest? The dryness of the track and the conditions might offer spinners some hope.

In the earlier matches of this World Cup - both day games - at this venue, South Africa amassed 351 for five against the Netherlands and the West Indies notched up 275 versus Ireland. The figures indicate there are runs on this track.

The History: India has beaten Pakistan in all four matches between the two sides in the World Cup. However, Pakistan has won both its ODIs against India at Mohali.

The second win for Pakistan, in 2007, throws up some interesting numbers. India, powered by Sachin Tendulkar's 99, raced to 321 for nine in 50 overs. Pakistan's response was a winning one; the side clinched the game in the final over.

Two key players in that remarkable chase, Younis Khan (117) and Misbah-ul-Haq (49), are still buzzing in the middle-order.

The dew factor: This could have an impact in a day\night game. But then, the conditions in the end of March here are generally drier than a game in winter.

The bowlers, spinners in particular, should have less difficulty in gripping the ball. In the seven day-night ODI games here over the last five years, five have been won by the side batting first. In fact, the ball has tended to skid around for the pacemen under the lights due to the slight evening moisture on the surface.

Strengths and weaknesses (India): India has the batting might. In the top-order, Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar are game-changers while Gautam Gambhir has grown in confidence. The middle-order, where Yuvraj Singh has displayed the temperament to match his natural gifts, can be resilient. Skipper Dhoni's batting form remains a concern but Suresh Raina's cameo at the crunch against Australia has provided greater depth to the batting.

Coming to an area of concern, the Indian running between the wickets has been rather ordinary.

Used in short bursts, Zaheer Khan has contained and struck with his control and movement. Off-spinner R. Ashwin is excelling in the Power Plays, and Yuvraj's left-arm spin has evolved.

On the flip side, India seeks more wickets from its premier spinner Harbhajan Singh; he needs to adopt a more attacking outside the off-stump line. Struggling seamer Munaf Patel could make way for either S. Sreesanth or Ashish Nehra.

Strengths and weaknesses (Pakistan): The side has greater sting in its attack. Umar Gul's swinging yorkers have dented line-ups. Afridi has been influential with his leg-spin while off-spinner Saeed Ajmal can be handy against three specialist left-handers in the Indian line-up.

Akhtar or Riaz?

Pakistan will mull over the inclusion of paceman Shoiab Akhtar for left-arm seamer Wahab Riaz. Akhtar has shock value but seems to be battling fitness concerns. All-rounders Afridi and Abdur Razzaq provide depth and options to the side.

Younis and Misbah offer stability to the batting line-up while younger men such as Umar Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez have sparkled. However, the Pakistani batting can implode in stressful situations. The Indian bowling, backed by smart fielding, will need to create the pressure. The chances are that Afridi, searching for form, could walk in at the top of the order. He has been destructive in India as an opener.

The teams (India): M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, S. Tendulkar, G. Gambhir, V. Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S. Raina, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, A. Nehra, Y. Pathan, M. Patel, P. Chawla,

Pakistan: S. Afridi (captain), K. Akmal, M. Hafeez, A. Shehzad, Younis Khan, Misbah, U. Akmal, A. Razzaq, U. Gul, S. Ajmal, W. Riaz, S. Akhtar, A. Shafiq, A. Rehman, J. Khan.

Umpires: S. Taufel and I. Gould. Third umpire: B. Bowden;

Match referee: R. Madugalle.

Match starts at 2.30 p.m.

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