Cricket: After the terrorists the battle begins

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The Independent Online
PAKISTAN START their first Test series in India for 12 years today facing an array of problems, ranging from successive series defeats to the lack of a settled opening pair. India, just back from losing a Test series in New Zealand, also have concerns over their openers for the two Tests, which will begin amid overwhelming security.

Tight safety measures are in place as a result of threats to disrupt the tour by Indian Hindu extremists, who called off their protest only hours before Pakistan arrived last week. In the past month members of the right-wing Shiv Sena Party have dug up the pitch at the New Delhi stadium and ransacked the Indian cricket authority's office in Bombay in an attempt to derail the series.

The match, which will be played in a fortified stadium with nearly 6,000 policemen, is expected to be watched by a noisy, partisan Indian crowd of 35,000.

Wasim Akram, recalled to captain Pakistan after they lost consecutive three-Test series at home to Australia last October and to Zimbabwe last month, said disruption threats were not a worry, giving his attention instead to problems at the top of the batting order. Aamir Sohail, the opener and former captain, was declared unfit for the tour and the other opener, Saeed Anwar, had a wretched start in India by being dismissed for nought and four in a three-day game at Gwalior.

Pakistan's problems were compounded by the newcomer, Wajahatullah Wasti, suffering a pair when he opened with Anwar in the match against India's A team in Gwalior.

At least the middle-order batsmen have swiftly found form, with Salim Malik hitting an aggressive century and Inzamam-ul-Haq twice narrowly missing three figures. Ijaz Ahmed, another batsman from the middle order who missed the game at Gwalior because of flu, had recovered sufficiently to practise on Tuesday.

Pakistan, with off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq and leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed in the squad, should be encouraged by reports that the pitch is expected to help slow bowlers. The Indian coach, Anshuman Gaekwad, yesterday said that the surface appeared hard and dry, with some initial moisture that might assist the seamers. "I think it will offer some bounce, too," he said.

India have omitted two all-rounders, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Hrishikesh Kanitkar, to reduce their squad to 12, and must now opt for the off-spinner, Harbhajan Singh, or the left-arm spinner, Sunil Joshi. That will mean a Test debut on home ground for the left-handed opener Sadagopan Ramesh, who scored a stylish 56 for India A against the touring team.

The regular openers, Ajay Jadeja and Navjot Sidhu, were left out of India's squad, handing Ramesh and the relatively inexperienced Vangipurappu Laxman a testing assignment.

Akram said: "India lost the series in New Zealand and that's a good sign for us... but then India play well at home and we play well when we're away. So let's see what happens."

The last time Pakistan and India met on Indian soil, in 1987, the Pakistanis won the five-Test series 1-0. Since the two countries first met in Tests in 1952-53, as many as 33 of their 44 Tests have been drawn.

INDIA (from): Mohammad Azharuddin (captain), VVS Laxman, S Ramesh, SC Ganguly, SR Tendulkar, RS Dravid, NR Mongia, A Kumble, J Srinath, RVC Prasad, H Singh, S Joshi. (Pakistan yet to be selected.)