Must-win situation for India, Pakistan

KOLKATA DEC. 24. Opening game losses to Sri Lanka has meant India and Pakistan are in a must win situation when they play the third league match of the Asian `A' triangular cricket tournament at the Eden Gardens here on Thursday.

To ensure a berth in the December 30 final, a team has to win at least three games in a three-team double leg contest. Sri Lanka has already won two and is in the comfort zone.

However, all is not lost for the two traditional rivals. Both can still make the final provided they win at least two games each in the remaining four matches to force a three-way tie. In a situation like this one needs to wait a little longer.

The feature of this tournament so far has been the domination of bat over ball. And Sri Lanka has flaunted its batting depth, especially the talent of its skipper Russel Arnold. The two matches produced in excess of 1200 runs showing that there was nothing much for the bowlers except employing a disciplined line and length and hoping for the best.

Sri Lanka's success came from good planning. As one of the openers kept one end up, Russel used his experience to gather runs with superb strokeplay. The Lankan `A' side maintained a good scoring rate from the start, thus putting the pressure on the opposition. Of course, Sri Lanka knew the target and paced its innings accordingly.

The Indians had a practice session this morning at the Eden Gardens, while most of the Pakistani batsmen preferred to rest before the crucial game. All its bowlers, however, attended nets and had lengthy stints.

India `A' skipper Hemang Badani was confident of putting it across Pakistan. "We need to get everything right,'' said Badani this afternoon. "Anything above 280 will be a good score.''

Pakistan coach Naveed Anjum echoed similar sentiments. "We have to do our job right against India. It is a strong side and we need to tighten up our bowling and fielding,'' he said. He also felt a total of 280 would be good enough to defend.

India will expect the middle-order to come good, especially the free-stroking Yuvraj Singh. The left-hander has the capability, range and power to turn around a game with his batting. Badani too will have to contribute to post a challenging total. The top order, in any case, has been among the runs.

The Indian bowling is really looking thin what with Amit Bhandari and Sanjay Bangar or even Munaf Patel not in the league of Pakistan's pace duo of Abdul Rouf Khan and Junaid Zia.

Pakistan's batting will revolve around Imran Nazir, captain Shahid Afridi, Salman Butt, Muhammad Hafeez and Faizal Iqbal. Bilal Asad's form in the lower order will certainly help his side's cause.

Bowling could be a problem for both as the teams stressed on disciplined line and length in tomorrow's game. Whoever comes up trumps will take a firm step towards reaching the final.

The teams (from):

India `A': Hemang Badani (Capt.), Gautam Gambhir, Sanjay Bangar, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Rohan Gavaskar, Ajay Ratra (wicketkeeper), Sairaj Bahutule, S. Sriram, Amit Bhandari, Munaf Patel, Sarandeep Singh and Siddharth Trivedi.

Pakistan `A': Shahid Afridi (Capt.), Muhammad Irshad, Naveed Latif, Mansoor Amjad, Imran Nazir, Salman Butt, Muhammad Hafeez, Amit-ur-Rehman (wicketkeeper), Faizal Iqbal, Bilal Asad, Abdur Rouf Khan, Junaid Zia, Saeed Bin Nasir and Muhammad Khalil.

Umpires: S. Amarasinghe and C.B.C. Rodrigo (both Sri Lanka); Third umpire: K. Hariharan (India); Match referee: G.R. Viswanath.

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