The much hyped India-Pakistan series is almost here. I see many things different about this series compared to the ones from the recent past. Firstly, both sides are young and fairly inexperienced (at least in comparison to teams from previous clashes). Secondly, both sides have new/inexperienced captains. Thirdly, I think, this time they are more evenly matched than ever before; and this is the case chiefly due to the absence of some key players from both sides: Inzamam for Pakistan, Dravid for India (although it remains to be seen if Dravid will make a comeback later in the ODI series).
The Youth vs. the Wise
If there is anything that adds the extra spice to the already red-hot series, it is the youth. The youth are known to be fearless, yet can also be reckless. The lack the wisdom that comes with grey hair and perhaps the temperament required to poke around and see through a wildly swinging new ball. This is good reason to expect more of the extremes: massive 20-20 style hitting leading ala Uthappa or Nazir leading to huge totals or low scoring matches caused by batting collapses.
Malik and Dhoni are fairly new to the captain’s seat and this will be a test for both. But I see them as having very different personalities. Malik is the laid-back quiet type of guy (like Dravid in some ways, although not as cautious with the communication skills) who I think may not be able to inspire his young guns. Dhoni on the other hand, comes off as a no-nonsense, outspoken (enough to poke one although good-temperedly at Ravi Shastri) type of person who seems to be able to bring out the yearning from his young lads. More importantly, Dhoni is a gambler, a trait that many successful captains. If I were asked to pick the better of the both, though I have a little bit of a soft corner for Malik – I’ve never had one for any other Pakistani captain I’ve seen – it would be Dhoni without a doubt.
More Evenly Matched than Ever
I remember this thought I had from a few years ago. I always thought that Pakistan had a lot of wild cards in their batting line up: people who, if it starts to go well, could blaze away ala Moin Khan, Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. Today, with Tendulkar and Ganguly becoming increasingly susceptible (thanks to replays) the absence of ‘Wall’ Dravid and the featuring of the flashy Yuvraj, Uthappa and Dhoni, the Indian middle order has the shares unpredictable wildness of its Pakistani counterpart. On the brighter side for India, its bowling has a little more sting than during the times of Srinath (with due respect). Pakistan’s bowling has always been its strength and I think it will continue to be the case this time also.
Players to watch
In an India-Pakistan series, one can expect to see something special from almost every member, but these are my picks for people to watch for:
Strength: Batting – 75% Bowling – 60%
Batsmen: Robin Uthappa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni for fire power; Sachin Tendulkar for experience and class
Bowlers: Irfan Pathan – can get breakthroughs and make a difference in the middle overs
* Honorable mention: Rohit Sharma (if he gets picked) – potential to become a good #3; Sreesanth – we might see some substance behind the dramatic paceman; Murali Karthik – bamboozling spin
Strength: Batting-65% Bowing- 70%
Batsmen: Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi for pinch hitting power, Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan for stabilizing capability
Bowlers: Umar Gul – consistency, Shoaib Akthar – pace power
* Honourable mention: Afridi – his bowling might bother a few in the Indian batting line up.