Kolkata: Last year's Asia Cup apart, Pakistan have not won a significant 50-over series since November 2011, when they beat Sri Lanka 4-1 in the UAE. Their six-wicket win in Chennai on December 30 has, however, given them a good shot at a rare series win over India on Wednesday when the two teams meet in Kolkata.
In 2012, Pakistan won seven of 18 ODIs. These included the Asia Cup final win over Bangladesh (by just two runs), and series defeats to England (4-0), Sri Lanka (3-1) and Australia (2-1). Having taken the series lead with a commanding performance in Chennai, thanks to a superb new-ball spell from Junaid Khan and fine innings from Nasir Jamshed and Younis Khan, Pakistan will be buoyant going into the clash at Eden Gardens where they have yet to lose to India.
Dating back to 1987, Pakistan have beaten India in Kolkata in the three times they've come up against the hosts. On February 18, 1987, they snuck home by two wickets thanks to Salim Malik's 36-ball 72; on October 28, 1989, they brushed India aside by 77 runs; and in the BCCI's Platinum Jubilee Match on November 13, 2004, a fine hundred from Salman Butt took Pakistan to a six-wicket victory.
This time too, Pakistan look in good shape to win at Kolkata. Their bowling attack is far superior to India's, starting with their nippy left-arm new-ball attack of Junaid and the 7-feet-1-inch Mohammad Irfan and backed by the canny Umar Gul and the No. 1 and 2 ranked ODI bowlers, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. Throw in Shoaib Malik, whose tidy offspin played a key role in keeping the lid on India on Sunday, and Pakistan completely outclass India on paper. Barring a mess of a drop by their captain Misbah-ul-Haq, their fielding too looked sharp.
In Chennai, Jamshed controlled the top order with a finely-crafted century – his second against India in two matches – while Younis made his presence felt with a clever 60-ball 58 which was worth its weight in gold. Malik, following his heroics in the first Twenty20, injected an unbeaten 34 off 35 balls from the middle order. Hafeez’s first-ball 0 should not bother the team considering his twin fifties in the T20I series. The only real issue was Misbah's scratchy 16, which extended his fifty-less streak, but if Pakistan win, then another poor score from the captain may not really matter.
India, meanwhile, will want to forget 2012 in a hurry and get back to winning ways. The defeat in the first match owed to a terrible start of 29 for 5, in which the top four batsmen were bowled, but of greater concern is the bowling. Ashok Dinda was too erratic, Ishant Sharma hardly looked like taking a wicket though he conceded runs at 3.90 an over, while offspinner R Ashwin's reprieving of Malik with a front-foot no ball was shocking. Further, India's reliance on Yuvraj Singh as the fifth bowler shows how wafer-thin the bowling is. His five overs cost 33 and Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli conceded 44 runs in five overs. The only bright spark was Uttar Pradesh seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had figures of 9-3-27-2 on ODI debut. But even Bhuvneshwar, with all due respect to his talent, looks like a bowler who will succeed only when the conditions favour him.
With Rohit Sharma registering another single-digit score in the last match – meaning that since the start of 2012 he averages 12.92 – it is foreseeable that his place goes to allrounder Ravindra Jadeja, who offers a tidy spin option and quick reflexes in the field. MS Dhoni was spectacular in defeat, scoring his eighth, and arguably best, ODI century, so he could move up to No. 5 while Jadeja slots in two spots behind. Despite poor scores to Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, it is unlikely that Ajinkya Rahane will slot in at the top, going by the Indian management's trend.
India last lost a bilateral series to Pakistan in 2005, at home. They will need to play far better cricket than they did in Chennai to prevent the visitors from achieving their 11th series win over them.
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashok Dinda.
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Junaid Khan, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Irfan.