India eye fresh start in New Year
Cricket Second ODI: Dhoniís men need a victory over Pakistan at the Eden Gardens to stay afloat
MS Dhoni and company spent most of the last year enduring one crushing defeat after another. With the onset of a new year, the Indian cricket team will be hoping to turn things around for the better.
The Men in Blue run into Pakistan in the second one-dayer here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday, in what will be a do-or-die encounter for the hosts. Down 0-1 after a six-wicket loss in Chennai on Sunday, India have to win the match to keep the three-match series alive. However, given the fragile make-up of the team and their history against Pakistan at this iconic venue, it will take something special from the Indians to put it across their arch-rivals.
Pakistan have won all the three matches they have played against India at this ground, the last of them coming in 2004 in the one-off game. The now-disgraced Salman Butt came up with a century to clinch the game for the visitors in a high-scoring game.
Only three players from that Pakistan side are part of this squad now – Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal – while Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh are the only Indian players who played in that match but will not have fond memories of it despite scoring fine half-centuries.
As the battered home side seeks to turn a new leaf in the fresh year, it will be hoping for Sehwag to bring his best game to the table in a crucial tie. It’s not just Sehwag, his misfiring partner at the top of the order, Gautam Gambhir, too, needs to step up.
India also would have heaved a sigh of relief with Virat Kohli, who had limped off the field after hurting his knee while bowling in Chennai, being declared fit to play. In a struggling line-up, the last thing Dhoni would have needed is the unavailability of his best ODI batsman for some time now.
Another encouraging factor for India is the ominous form their skipper has shown in the last few innings he has played. His unbeaten century, which helped India put up semblance of fight in the opening one-dayer, was outstanding that would have forced the Pakistani think tank spent a lot of time pouring over video footage.
The Indian team management, too, will be fretting over the possibility of excluding Rohit Sharma and bringing back left-handed all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja in the line-up what with the new ODI rules warranting specialist bowlers.
India do have the option of picking either leg-spinner Amit Mishra or uncapped Bengal paceman Shami Ahmed, but that’s a slim possibility given Dhoni’s discomfort to go in with less than seven batsmen, especially with the top-order struggling to produce good scores on consistent basis.
The fact that there is not much room to experiment in a short series like this, Dhoni would rather back his tried and tested method of picking an extra batsman than tinker too much with the team combination. Should Rohit get the axe, Ajinkya Rahane will be included in the final 11 though it remains to be seen if the right-hander gets to open the innings.
Unlike in Chennai, where the match began at 9.00 am, the 12.00 noon start here may negate any help for the seamers. Pakistani pacers, especially Junaid Khan, made excellent use of the swinging conditions at Chepauk to rattle the Indian top-order.
Junaid broke the back of Indian batting line-up with a four-wicket burst but the hosts will be hoping the late start here would render the left-arm paceman less effective though the overcast conditions that had been prevalent for the last two days, may still keep the bowler interested.
Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Shami Ahmed.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wk), Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Mohammad Irfan, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Haris Sohail, Zulfiqar Babar, Imran Farhat, Anwar Ali.