Tue, 08 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

India eyes more success over subdued Pakistan

N. Ananthanarayanan, Reuters/Mohali, India

Pakistan begins its first test series in India for six years on Tuesday, pinning hopes on history repeating itself and a dramatic reversal in recent form.

The visitors clinched a 1-0 victory in a six-test series in 1986-87, and on their last tour in 1999 drew the test series 1-1 before claiming victory in an Asian test championship match.

Pakistan is in some disarray this time, however, with injury to flamboyant strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar adding to the gloom of a recent 3-0 drubbing in Australia.

It has also endured a wretched time in the build-up to the series after poor weather badly curtailed their only three-day warm-up game.

India, on the other hand, is upbeat going into the three- test series and six one-day internationals.

Top batsman Sachin Tendulkar is fit after struggling with a long-term tennis elbow injury, and the hosts will reach their highest ever test ranking of number two behind Australia if they beat their neighbors 2-0.

Saurav Ganguly's team will draw strength from last year's 2-1 maiden series triumph in Pakistan, which capped its first test tour across the border for 14 years.

Pure form, however, has seldom decided the outcome of cricket contests between the two countries.

Players on both sides have always had to contend with incredible pressure from fans due to the history of political rivalry in the cricket-crazy south Asian neighbors.

The Indian government stopped all bilateral games against Pakistan in 2000 due to political tension until it was lifted in late 2003.

Although cricket matches in both countries have been marred by unruly crowd behavior, the thaw in ties has begun to be reflected on the pitch.

Indian players and fans were overwhelmed by Pakistani hospitality in 2004 and thousands of Pakistan supporters are due to arrive to a warm reception for the first test in Mohali, which is in Punjab state bordering Pakistan.

Around 8,000 Pakistan fans are expected travel on special trains and buses.

Millions of fans also await two major milestones.

Tendulkar, 31 (shown at left in graphic), needs one more hundred to go past compatriot Sunil Gavaskar's world record 34 test centuries.

He is just 121 runs short of becoming the fifth player in test history to score 10,000 runs. He already holds the one-day records for aggregate runs and centuries.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq (shown at right) is three short of playing in 100 tests, hoping he will be free of a long- term back problem which forced him to miss two tests in Australia.

Inzamam has warned critics about writing off his youthful team, which many believe can still spring a surprise.

Experienced middle-order batsman Yousuf Youhana and opener Salman Butt both hit test hundreds against the formidable Australian pace attack, while top order batsman Yasir Hameed and left-hander Asim Kamal shone in last year's defeat by India.