Group D preview - in the balance
09 Sep 2007
By: Sean Bennett
India and Pakistan will both be looking to edge through group D of the World Twenty20, but it'll be tight. Both sides hould be naturals at the format, but neither are. If they both perform to their potential, the game between the pair on 14th September should be a classic.
India was surprisingly the last Test nation to begrudgingly accept Twenty20 cricket, a format which would presumably appeal to the Indian population who eagerly lap up ODI cricket, especially when it is high scoring. The Indian side also looked well suited to the format, with an explosive and experienced batting lineup and several spinners to choose from. However, with high expectations back home and under pressure to deliver some sort of limited overs success coming out of a World Cup failure and a lost ODI series in England, the pressure is on tfor the side to deliver.
In the absence of India's three most experienced batsmen, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, who all opted out of the competition, India will be led by explosive wicketkeeper-batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni will also have the onus of providing the runs firmly thrust upon himself, along with fellow big hitter Virender Sehwag and the experienced and classy Yuvraj Singh, who also provides a useful left arm spin option. Support will be provided by Dinesh Karthik, who scored a match winning innings in India's only previous Twenty20 international, and the young and talented Robin Uthappa.
The Indian bowling attack always looks shaky, with any one of the bowlers likely to be poor on any given day, but the seamers also all have the ability to take wickets if the wind blows the right way. Ajit Agarkar, Sreesanth and RP Singh all had their moments in England, but how they adjust to the South African conditions in such a short space of time will be crucial. Two very good spinning options in Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh are also available, which may well be priceless considering the success of the spinner in Twenty20 cricket.
The rest of the squad is packed with allround options in Rohit Sharma, Irfan and Yusuf Pathan and Joginder Sharma. All four of whom have enjoyed success with bat and ball in domestic Twenty20 games.
One area in which India desperately need to improve on their sides in the other formats is fielding. Renowned for being a poor fielding side, India cannot get anywhere in this tournament if they are sloppy in the field. Perhaps it is hoped by the management that choosing a young squad may inject some energy into their fielding effort. Whether or not the energy is there could be the key to India's success in the World Twenty20.
Potentially the perfect Twenty20 side, Pakistan's squad contains all the ingredients for the perfect limited overs side - aggressive batsmen, skilful spinners, genuinely fast bowlers, quality allrounders. However, in the 50 over game, Pakistan have flattered to deceive, unable to get rid of the tag of being cricket's Jekyll and Hyde. Never seeming to all pull in the same direction, Pakistan are dogged by inconsistency and controversy, which has already struck with the sending home of Shoaib Akthar. Whether they can perform consistently in the World Twenty20 is a big if, but if they get it right, we'll be in for quite a show.
Since the World Cup, Pakistan has lost its two premier batsmen in Inazamam-Ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf. Whilst this can be seen as for the best in that their fielding, Inzamam's in particular, could be seen as a liability at this level, there is no doubt that the batting lineup is weaker without than with. Salman Butt looks to open the batting, probably partnered by Mohammad Hafeez. The middle order, led by the quality Younis Khan and also consisting captain Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal and potentially Misbah-ul-Haq, a forgotten man of Pakistani cricket, looks formidable and devastating. Afridi in particular has the ability to tear a bowling attack to shreds.
The bowling department has been dealt a blow following the Rawalpindi express, Shoaib Akhtar, being sent home for going off the rails yet again. This leaves Mohammad Asif to lead the attack, backed by medium pacers Umar Gul and Yasir Arafat - far less likely to strike fear into the hearts of batsmen than Shoaib. The spin bowling department looks strong, however, with Afridi, Malik and the impressive young allrounder Fawad Alam available to tie up the batsmen.
Group D's minnows Scotland come into the tournament with little Twenty20 or international experience, but hopeful of a repeat of this year's World Cup, where both India and Pakistan succumbed to shock results and fell at the first hurdle. Possessing little bar several players with English County experience and a bucketload of guts, Scotland's chances are slim coming into the World Twenty20.
Opening batsman and captain Ryan Watson provides Scotland's best chance of scoring runs. The Zimbabwe-born batsman is a powerful striker of the ball and Scotland's most consistent run scorer. Warwickshire's Navdeep Poonia will bat at 3 and is a talented young batsman, whilst some middle order muscle will be wanted from ex-Yorkshire and Durham player Gavin Hamilton, Neil McCallum and veteran County allrounder Dougie Brown.
Scotland's bowling attack looks flimsy in the face of the opposition's powerful batting lineups. Spearheaded by ex-Yorkshire seamer John Blain and the 37 year old Brown, with support from medium pacer Craig Wright, the bowling attack lacks the pace and penetration to really trouble top batsmen. Off spinner Majid Haq is one to watch. The most likely to take wickets for the Scots, he may well be targeted aswell.
With the fierce rivalry between Pakistan and India set to resume, the winner of this group is harder to pick than a broken nose. Both sides have players tailor made for Twenty20 cricket, and the form of both sides is so inconsistent that anything could happen over the 40 overs on 14th September. With some energy and application, Scotland could give both sides a game, but it isn't realistic to expect a Caledonian victory. India have less experience in the Twenty20 format, having played just one Twenty20 international and one domestic season of the format. If the discontent in the camp has died down with Akhtar's dismissal, with players who've had more opportunities to develop a feel for the game and dynamic allrounders such as Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan must just be favourites to edge it.
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