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Pitch battle ahead of second India-Pakistan Test
by AFP


Ground:Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad
Event:India in Pakistan 2005/06

Rivals India and Pakistan will have one eye on the weather and the other on the pitch as they prepare for the second cricket Test starting here on Saturday.

The prevailing cold and wet conditions in northern Pakistan, which made it difficult for the groundsman to provide a sporting wicket, ruined the first Test in Lahore earlier this week.

There were six centuries in the weather-curtailed Test that ended in a draw after Pakistan amassed 679 for seven declared and India replied with 410 for one on a batsman-friendly wicket at the Gaddafi stadium.

Pakistan's chief curator (groundsman) Agha Zahid, who came under fire for the dead track he provided in Lahore, is hard at work at the Iqbal stadium trying to prepare a result-oriented wicket.

It is a task that former opener Agha, who played one Test against the West Indies in the 1980s, said was easier said than done.

"We can only do our best but we can't beat the weather," he said.

"We need a strong sun to make a hard wicket but the rain three days back and mild sunshine after that has made our job very difficult.

"It will not be easy to make the best possible wicket but we trying our hardest."

Bright sunshine lit up this central Punjab town on Thursday but cold and wet weather has been forecast over the weekend.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq denied accusations that he had deliberately ordered a dead pitch in Lahore to ensure his team did not lose the first Test.

"It was said that I had asked for the grass to be shaved off, but how can I do that when there was no grass on it in the first place?" said Inzamam.

"We need dry grass on the wicket which can last for five days. It all depends on how the weather behaves."

Irrepressible Indian opener Virender Sehwag, who smashed 254 in the first Test, said the fear of losing had prompted Pakistan to prepare a flat wicket in that game.

"They had lost the series to us two years ago and did not want to take a chance," said Sehwag.

The Iqbal stadium track in Faisalabad has traditionally favoured batsmen, with 12 of the 23 Tests played here having ended in draws. Pakistan won six Tests and lost five.

India lost at this venue in 1982 during Pakistan's 3-0 series win, but drew three other matches including the last one in 1989 when 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar made his first Test half-century.

Indian coach Greg Chappell will also have fond memories of Faisalabad. He made 235 not out as Australian captain in 1979 during another high-scoring draw.

India are hoping their first Test at the Iqbal stadium in more than 16 years will produce a result.

"If we get a full 90 overs on all five days anything can happen," said Indian vice-captain Sehwag.

In November, England wriggled out of a tight situation in a weather-hit game when they slumped to 164-6 in their second innings while chasing a target of 285.

The match was drawn after 17 overs were lost on the final day.

If this Test also ends in a stalemate India and Pakistan will have everything to play for in the third and final Test in Karachi from January 29.

(Article: Copyright © 2006 AFP) spacer

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