Pakistan expected to take it easy

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REAL CHALLENGE: In the absence of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir would be the mainstay of Delhi batting.
REAL CHALLENGE: In the absence of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir would be the mainstay of Delhi batting.

Special Correspondent

Meets a depleted Delhi side in a practice match at Kotla

NEW DELHI: This must be the weakest Pakistan team to tour India. Under Shoaib Malik, 25, the squad no doubt has a number of young players with proven ability but lacks names that inspire awe. No wonder then, there was little sign of excitement usually associated with the arrival of a Pakistan cricket team in the Capital.

With India and Pakistan playing each other every year, alternatively at home and away basis, the novelty of watching the two neighbours slug it out has waned. What was once considered a “war without weapons” is today just another annual ritual. The intensity once associated with an India-Pakistan match has reduced but no one is complaining.

After the one-day series against World champion Australia, the forthcoming clash with Pakistan is much like having the starters after a sumptuous three-course meal.

Few crowd-pullers

Compared to the Aussie combination, this Pakistan team, coached by Geoff Lawson, has very few names that command star appeal.

Barring an eternally focussed Mohammad Yousuf, a determined Younis Khan, happy-go-lucky Shahid Afridi and a flamboyant Shoaib Akhtar, none in this16-member squad, including Malik, can be termed a crowd-puller.

Compare this with some of the previous Pakistan squads that have come to India for a full series since 1979, and the difference in class stands pronounced. With wily paceman Mohammad Asif already ruled out of the first three one-day internationals due to an elbow injury (he missed four out of five ODIs against South Africa last month), Pakistan’s worries have already begun even before the first ball has been bowled on the tour.

The team, which arrived here on Thursday afternoon, will be out at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground on Friday for a practice game, a one-dayer against Delhi. Pakistan will not be expected to stretch too hard ahead of the five-match ODI series that begins at Guwahati on Monday.

It will be foolhardy to assume that Pakistan will go full blast in a warm-up game. Akhtar, who made an impressive comeback against South Africa in the final one-dayer earlier this week, will be watched with interest even if he chooses to bowl at half his usual pace.

It should not come as a surprise if Pakistan fields the same combination that is likely to take on India in the series opener. Like India, Pakistan, too, has a long season ahead, and it needs no reminding that going slow with trusted names is better than testing its bench strength in a series that means much.

Not its best eleven

Delhi, on its part, is not in a position to field its best combination. Virender Sehwag, Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma are not in the playing eleven. Sehwag, back in the National one-day squad after being considered for the first two games against Pakistan, has opted out of Friday’s tie following his father’s demise on Tuesday. Nehra and Ishant are still to be match-fit.

Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya put things in perspective when he said, “we will make the most of this opportunity to play against a National side. We were actually looking at the long season ahead starting with the Ranji match against Rajasthan (beginning here on Saturday). But now that we have been given a one-day game against Pakistan, I am sure the boys will learn some lessons from this outing.”

The teams (from):

Pakistan: Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik (capt.), Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Iftikhar Anjum, Shoaib Akhtar, Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Umar Gul and Fawad Alam.

Delhi: Gautam Gambhir (capt.), Aakash Chopra, Shikhar Dhawan, Mithun Manhas, Virat Kohli, Rajat Bhatia, Puneet Bisht, Amit Bhandari, Pradeep Sangwan, Kuunal Lall and Chetnya Nanda.

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