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November 14, 2007
The recent trend in contests between India and Pakistan has been for the visiting side to prevail in the one-day series. India won 3-2 when they toured Pakistan in 2003-04; Pakistan overturned a 0-2 deficit in India in 2004-05; and Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni masterminded a 4-1 victory in Pakistan in 2005-06. India, sitting on a 2-1 lead, have an opportunity to buck that trend and close out the series in the fourth one-dayer in Gwalior.
The day-night fixture in Gwalior, however, could work to Pakistan's advantage. They won the second ODI under lights in Mohali to level the series, and the quarter-final of the 1996 World Cup in Bangalore was the last time they lost under lights to India in India.
The Diwali festival marks the onset of winter in India and the change in temperature, a warm afternoon giving way to a cool evening, will bring dew into consideration once again. The teams practised under lights on the eve of the match, getting used to the haze as the floodlight took over from twilight.
The dew factor forced both teams to drop their left-arm spinners, Murali Kartik and Abdur Rehman, at Mohali. India strengthened their batting by picking Virender Sehwag, while Pakistan went for an extra fast bowler Sohail Tanvir. Both ploys eventually backfired as Pakistan conceded 321, despite bolstering their pace attack, and India's weakened bowling failed to defend the target.
Four or five bowlers?
If India drop Kartik on Thursday, they will be faced with two options. The first is to revert to the Mohali combination and bring back Sehwag. The issue with playing only four bowlers is that, Sourav Ganguly aside, India's part-timers are spinners and they could struggle to control a wet ball.
The other option is to play Sreesanth, whose outswing could prove a handful under the lights. He hasn't played in the series so far but is an option worth exploring, for Pakistan's batsmen aren't technically the best against the swinging ball. India's cricket manager, Lalchand Rajput, said that they would decide on an eleven only after the conditions had been assessed.
The Yuvraj-Dhoni combine
If India pick Sehwag, it would mean pushing Yuvraj and Dhoni down the order as Sehwag bats after Gambhir at No 4. Yuvraj and Dhoni have been in excellent form, contributing to India's wins at Guwahati and Kanpur, while batting at four and five. They came in lower in Mohali and were dismissed for 34 and 4 in quick succession, forcing India to settle for 321 when they were on course to set a bigger target.
Both batsmen are excellent judges of a run and their speed makes them difficult to contain, one reason why India would want them to bat for as long as possible.
The Akmal question
Pakistan, however, are grappling with issues of their own. Kamran Akmal's form behind the stumps has been woeful. He dropped four catches in three ODIs and the first-ball reprieve of Sourav Ganguly in Kanpur might have been the final straw. The selectors called up Sarfraz Ahmed as cover for Akmal, who is nursing an injured hand. Malik said the injury was minor and a final decision would be taken after a fitness test. Akmal, however, took active part in the warm-ups and it's likely that he'll get another chance tomorrow as Ahmed joined the team only this evening and rushing him into a vital match against India might prove daunting for a 20-year old.
Akmal's batting is also a concern for Pakistan. He was demoted to No. 7 in Kanpur, after making 12 and 13 as opener in the first two ODIs. Pakistan have chopped and changed their opening combination in recent times and now have one in-form opener Salman Butt, who has scored 50, 37 and 129.
Another option is to promote Malik up the order, given his success in the past against India at No. 3 and No. 4. Malik, however, said that they weren't facing "any dilemma over batting positions" and would decide the batting order "according to the situation".
Shoaib and Shoaib
Malik was put in an awkward situation when asked about Shoaib Akhtar saying that he "wasn't ready for the ODIs" and "needed to train more in the gym and get into the shape". Malik played down the issue and said that all those selected for the tour had "come here to win" and that the "morale in the dressing room was high".
Malik thought it was zabardast (excellent). The short boundaries at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium have also played their part in teams batting first scoring 250-plus in eight out of ten matches to date. If the power-hitters in both sides get going, Gwalior could witness its first 300-plus one-day international tomorrow.
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