India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Kolkata March 15, 2005

An equal battle



"The chances of us playing three fast bowlers is bright," said Sourav Ganguly, but his words could just be gamesmanship © Afp

Through one day of fiercely determined cricket the Pakistan team have gone from being 'the worst of its kind to tour India' to being regarded as a serious contender. Inzamam-ul-Haq has pleaded, time and again, for a show of character, for someone to put their hand up and rise to the occasion. Often his pleas have fallen on deaf ears, but in Mohali Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq showed that this team believe in themselves. And it is this spirit that make them a dangerous side when the second Test begins in Kolkata.

Sourav Ganguly has insisted all along that the underdog title should not be bestowed lightly on Pakistan. Despite being unable to close out the last Test, Ganguly knows that his team played better cricket on four of five days. He has the benefit of having a settled side, and the option of a great spinner waiting in the wings in Harbhajan Singh, should the need arise. India still remain the better team on paper but, as we are constantly reminded, this game is played out in the middle, not on paper.

The ground

The Pakistanis certainly won't get the same kind of warmth and hospitality from the Bengalis as they did from their Punjabi brethren, but they will not complain about playing at Eden Gardens. In five Tests here they have never lost to India, drawing on four occasions, and pulling off a stunning come-from-behind win in 1999, when they were reduced to 26 for 6 on the first day, and still managed to claw their way back.

The pitch

The early clamour over the grass on the pitch seems to be settling as the time for the match draws close. From afar, it appears that there is still some grass on the pitch, but those who have seen the pitch over the last week insist that there has been less grass with every passing day. Kolkata is famous for producing slow turners, and though this strip may not quite be that dead, it is unlikely to be as quick as the one in Mohali, or seam as much as the one on which India played Australia in Nagpur.

The teams

Pakistan

Pakistan have a real hassle on their hands when it comes down to picking eleven players for this match. There's still enough doubt about how the wicket will be when the umpires call 'play', for Pakistan to consider all options. The top order has been a problem, and it is certain that either Yasir Hameed or Shahid Afridi will find a place, with either Salman Butt or Taufeeq Umar making way.

Naved-ul-Hasan is suffering from a shoulder injury, and this could well rule him out of the game. He did not bowl at all in the nets when Pakistan practised, and a local doctor who treated him recommended a week's rest. This opens a door for Arshad Khan, if Pakistan choose to gamble and leave Mohammad Sami and Razzaq to share the new ball. In the event that Afridi plays, this looks a serious possibility.



Harbhajan Singh looks likely to play on a ground where he has an awesome record © Afp

India

India's selection dilemma is a simple one. Their batting line-up is set and Dinesh Karthik still has the confidence of the team. The state of the pitch will determine whether India go into this match with the same combination that played the first Test, although that seems extremely unlikely. Harbhajan Singh has a fine record on this ground (29 wickets in four Tests), and Ganguly's saying, "The chances of us playing three fast bowlers is bright," could just be gamesmanship.

Weather, etc.

The change of weather from the cool, relatively less humid climes of Dharamsala and Mohali to the hot, balmy Kolkata, is bound to be a factor. Already Mohammad Sami has felt the debilitating effect and was dehydrated at the end of a practice session two days before the match. This will mean that both captains have to use their bowlers, especially the quick men, in shorter spells, making it harder to apply pressure if one bowler goes off the boil. To add to this, some unseasonal showers hit Kolkata on Monday, and the met office has not ruled out the chance that there might be more rain around the corner.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.