Pakistan grapple with fitness problems

Pakistan’s hopes of avoiding their first series loss in India in more than two decades suffered a setback following injuries and illness to key players ahead of Friday’s second Test here.

Pakistan, who lost the last Test series in India in 1980, were sweating over the fitness of in-form paceman Shoaib Akhtar who was hospitalised here on Tuesday due to a chest infection, making him doubtful for the match.

Pakistan trail 1-0 in the three-Test series following their six-wicket defeat in the opening match in New Delhi on Monday.

Skipper Shoaib Malik is recovering from an ankle injury, paceman Umar Gul from a back problem and batsman Misbah-ul-Haq from a throat infection.

”All we can do is to hope that he [Akhtar] regains full fitness before the match,” said Pakistan media manager Ehsan Malik.

”Malik’s injury does not seem to be serious and he should be okay, while Gul is feeling better and likely to bowl in the nets.”

Akhtar was the most impressive Pakistani bowler in the first Test as he grabbed six wickets, including four in the second innings.

He rose to fame at the Eden Gardens here in 1999 when he bowled top Indian batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid with swinging yorkers in a Test match.

Pakistan now need to lift their all-round performance, especially batting, in order to ward off a second successive defeat against a confident India.

The tourists were let down by batting in the opening match as they could manage just 231 in the first innings and 247 in the second, which were not enough to put pressure on the hosts.

The biggest disappointment was the failure of middle-order batsmen Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Malik. Yousuf could contribute only 45 in the match, followed by vice-captain Younis (30) and Malik (11).

The Pakistani skipper was looking forward to an improved performance from his batsmen in the crucial match.

”More than bowling, it is the batting that we need to work on. We have to look at some of the shots that caused our downfall, and ensure that we do not play them again,” Malik had said after the first match.

In contrast, India solved their batting problems at the right time. They were dismissed for a below-par 276 in the first innings, but hardly faced any problems chasing a 203-target in the fourth innings.

India won the battle of middle orders, with Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Venkatsai Laxman and Dravid all contributing vital runs in their team’s victory.

The hosts also won the duel of captains, with Anil Kumble proving he knew a trick or two more than his Pakistani counterpart. His smart bowling changes helped his team keep a constant pressure on the Pakistani batsmen.

The Indian leg-spinner was also in good nick as he took seven wickets on his captaincy debut in the previous Test to bag man-of-the-match award.

”It’s very special to have started with a win,” said Kumble.

”Having said that, however, I think we have to constantly challenge ourselves to go further. We have to remember the importance of planning, setting goals and working towards them.”

Pakistan will need an extraordinary performance from their bowlers if Akhtar is ruled out of the match, considering India’s depth in batting. – AFP

Teams:

Pakistan (from): Shoaib Malik (capt), Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria.

India (from): Anil Kumble (capt), Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik, Munaf Patel.

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