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Pakistan vs. India (Players To Watch)

PAKISTAN
Inzamam-ul-Haq
For Inzamam, batting has never been as precise a skill as it has been in the last year. Almost every time he has moped to the crease, he has begun intent & finished with aplomb. More often Pakistan have been in crisis & occasionally in a position of strength, but Inzamam has always produced. This winter - or summer - world cricket has witnessed Inzamam & Ricky Ponting, two batting captains at their absolute peak. & here too Inzamam will be expected to score; his captaincy leans so heavily on his form that his runs are doubly crucial. A good time to face Anil Kumble, whose low-trajectoried legbreaks have harassed Inzamam traditionally.

Shoaib Akhtar
Back in the business of fast bowling & how. Although his recent record prior to the series against England was impressive anyway, with 17 wickets in three Tests, over a hundred overs & stellar batting rearguards, he became literally a new man. A bit like his slower ball; he's always had a good one but against England, with added flight & dip, it became a superb one. Although he stamped his presence internationally with two deliveries against India at Eden Gardens, spiritually they have become almost a bogey team for him now, after his infamous absence last year & notorious underperformance two years ago. If he can sustain the hostility, then some of his spells to the likes of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar & Laxman promise great things.

Danish Kaneria
After his success this past year & his performances in India last year, he has a reputation to uphold rather than establish & that may be one of the more significant challenges. Against England & the West Indies he won matches with swift wickets & he can be thanked, in the age of Warne & Kumble, for making the googly fashionable again. The Indians adjusted to him well last year but never really nullified him & for batsmen used to toying with leggies, it would have grated. Might not be burdened as much this time as he was in the last series but his contributions will be equally as crucial.

Wild Card - Rana Naved-ul-Hasan
Completely in keeping with his demeanour, his Test performances against England in the last series were among the most promising & simultaneously among the least celebrated developments. He had said before the series that the imbalance in his ODI & Test performances was a mental rather than skill-based aberration & he finally overcame it, with some help from four-day county cricket. What India saw in the ODI series in India, they might now see in the Tests here. He has become, in two Tests, an exciting & remarkable foil to Shoaib; he experiments, he swings the ball, has bustling pace & various changes of it, he bowls for hours. Additionally, his Duracell-fuelled energy with bat or in the field is a sizeable bonus. An eye, a diligent one, will have to be kept on him.

INDIA
Rahul Dravid
When Dravid has scored big, which has been with monotonous regularity over the past five seasons, India have rarely ever lost. When those lofty standards have dropped, as against Australia last season, India have subsided to defeat. Sehwag may be more flamboyant & Tendulkar more celebrated but, more often than not, it's been Dravid's obduracy & sheer bloody-mindedness that has thwarted the opposition. Once defensive & dour, he can now also change gears effortlessly & with cynics pointing to an average of 22 from six Tests as captain, you can be sure that he's whipping up the eggs to smear on their faces.
Record against Pakistan: 9 Tests, 804 runs at 53.6, 3x100, 2x50

Virender Sehwag
Until he stuttered in Zimbabwe - & he can rarely be bothered with minnow-bashing - & at home against Sri Lanka, Sehwag had legitimate claims to being the world's most destructive & effective opening bat. Striking the ball as powerfully as Matthew Hayden in his pomp, Sehwag mined a rich vein of form that included glorious centuries against Australia & Pakistan - 309 at Multan & 203 at Bangalore being the pick of the bunch. He hasn't really struggled of late, but has kept frittering away starts, which could be absolutely fatal to India's chances if repeated in this series.
Record against Pakistan: 6 Tests, 982 runs at 98.2, 3x100, 2x50

Anil Kumble
By relentlessly pushing himself in search of slow-bowling perfection at an age when most think of the comforts of the commentary box, he has been the subcontinent's answer to Shane Warne - without the nurses & the lewd texts. The last tour of Pakistan was part of an incredible renaissance that included matchwinning displays at Adelaide, Multan & Chennai & while accuracy & persistence remain his calling cards, there is also an enhanced repertoire to worry about. Factor in a matchless attitude, & you know why he remains so dangerous even when the ball's not turning his way.
Record against Pakistan: 9 Tests, 54 wickets at 27.48, Four 5-wicket hauls.

Wild card - Sachin Tendulkar
It would be tempting to cite the burgeoning allround talent of Irfan Pathan, but his figures against Pakistan (18 wickets at 41.77, & 128 runs at 18.28) don't really inspire confidence. Even in Tendulkar's case, the numbers - 855 runs at 42.75 - are far less formidable than against most opposition, largely the result of the four Tests he played without much success as a kid in 1989. But when was the last time India went through a major series without Tendulkar making some inimitable imprint on proceedings? & when you keep him quiet with the bat, he may just sting you with his spin variations, as Moin Khan discovered to his horror at Multan on the last tour.
Record against Pakistan: 13 Tests, 855 runs at 42.75, 2x100, 5x50

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