Victorious World Cup team: Psychological advantageA cricket series between India and Pakistan is probably the closest thing to a war between the two countries. The emotional involvement of 765 million people on both sides of the border with the 22 gladiators in the arena makes the traditional Ashes series between,Victorious World Cup team: Psychological advantageA cricket series between India and Pakistan is probably the closest thing to a war between the two countries. The emotional involvement of 765 million people on both sides of the border with the 22 gladiators in the arena makes the traditional Ashes series between England and Australia look like a friendly contest between two teams of clergymen. Next fortnight, the fever will strike again when Zaheer Abbas, the bespectacled new Pakistani captain flies in with his team to do torrid battle with the recently-crowned World Cup champions led by Kapil Dev.Somehow, with the hangover of the World Cup celebrations still to recede, the coming series has not generated the usual fever-pitch excitement. But that is neither an indication of complacency on the part of India nor that the series will be any less hotly contested than before. Both sides have too much at stake for that.India have to prove that their sensational World Cup win was no flash in the pan while Pakistan’s drubbing of the Indian team during the last series, which they won 3-0, should give Abbas and his team the required determination to attempt a repeat of that performance.Formidable Batsmen: Admittedly, the absence of Imran Khan will be a major psychological loss to the Pakistan side. “Without Imran, I don’t think Pakistan can pose any major problems for our batsmen,” says Dilip Sardesai, the former anchorman of Indian batting.But even without the feared fast bowler, Pakistan’s formidable batting strength and the slow wickets they will be playing on must surely cancel out any advantage. In Pakistan during the last series and on similar wickets, that line-up succeeded in restricting a majority of the matches to single-inning affairs. Between them, Mohsin Khan, Mudassar Nazar, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas are capable of tearing any attack to shreds.But again, without a bowling attack capable of getting the other side out twice, huge totals can only result in dull draws. Of the 30 Tests played so far between the two traditional rivals, only 10 have ended in results, including the three Tests won by Pakistan during the last forgettable series. That series also gave Pakistan a lead over India in terms of the number of Tests won by each side. Pakistan has now won six while India has won four.Contained in those statistics, however, is one factor that gives India an edge in the coming series. All four Tests won by India have been on Indian soil while Pakistan has won five of the six Tests on their side of the border. India, as both Kapil and Abbas admitted to INDIA TODAY (see interviews) has a definite psychological advantage by virtue of their World Cup win.Judicious Combination: In that context, much will depend on the composition of the two sides. Says former Indian cricket captain Ajit Wadekar: “We should remember that the World Cup was one-day cricket. We have the edge provided we have the right balance in the team.” Wadekar advocates the same combination that India fielded for the World Cup team but adds: “It is essential that we have at least two spinners since this is going to be a five-day game and Jullundur and Nagpur have pretty slow wickets.”Though the team will only be announced next week, it is not difficult to pin-point the certainties. Gavaskar, 33, Yashpal Sharma, 28, Mohinder Amarnath, 32, and Sandeep Patil, 26, are the four specialist batsmen who are obvious choices. With two spinners in the side, that leaves a requirement for only one more bat and the toss-up will be between the mercurial Krishnamachari Srikkanth, 23, and the elegant but unreliable Dilip Vengsarkar, 27. advertisementSarfaraz Nawaz (left) and Iniran Khan: Conspicuous absenceVengsarkar has been far from his best in recent Tests but his obvious talent makes him a difficult player to drop from any Indian side. Srikkanth’s impetuosity is his only drawback since he has proved that he can dominate any bowling attack in the world with the right mental application.In a recent interview, Srikkanth admitted that his inherent impulse to go for the bowling had introduced an element of rashness in his play but the World Cup had matured him and taught him the value of curbing his natural instincts.Srikkanth’s selection also solves the problem of an opening partner for Gavaskar which is why it is more than likely that he will get the nod for the first couple of Tests and Vengsarkar will be brought in only if he fails.Bowling Line-up: The opening attack poses some problems. Kapil’s partner in the World Cup, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, 26, performed creditably enough but so did Madan Lal, 32, and Roger Binny, 28, and it is difficult to see all three medium pacers in the side for a five-day match.advertisementMadan Lal is a great trier but Sandhu has more deviation and swing in his bowling while Binny’s fielding and comparative youth cannot be ignored easily either. However, it seems fairly certain that Madan Lal will stay on in the side with either Binny or Sandhu jockeying for the third medium pacer’s place.Kirmani, who has redeemed his reputation after an indifferent series in the West Indies, will definitely don the wicket-keeper’s pads which leaves the awkward question of the two spinners. As Kapil himself admits, none of the candidates is of adequate class. Maninder Singh showed initial promise but seems to have faded out since. Ravi Shastri, 20, has a similar career graph and has obviously not worked hard enough on his game to deserve automatic selection.The Tamil Nadu spinner Sivaramakrishnan was sidelined during the World Cup but this could be his chance to get into the side. Kirti Azad’s performance in the World Cup qualifies him for serious consideration since he is also an excellent fielder.The selectors are obviously going to be faced with a difficult choice from among the four and it is not easy to predict which two they will opt for. Shastri, however, has improved his prospects considerably with a century last fortnight in Madras. That possibly could tip the scales in his favour.The other element of uncertainty is the venues. Both Nagpur and Jullundur are untried grounds for five-day Tests, with the more traditional Test centres having being ignored for populist reasons.Jullundur is of course more accessible to Pakistani cricket fans but considering the new stadium is named after Bishen Singh Bedi it is possible that the national selector twisted some arms to have the Test there.The Board has also taken the unusual step of appointing Bedi as manager for half the series while former Test player Ashok Mankad will take over for the other half. What effect this will have on the team and its performance is still to be viewed but it is hardly a healthy precedent.Pakistani Side: The crucial uncertainty, however, rests with the team that Zaheer Abbas leads. It is obvious that Pakistan cricket is passing through a transitional period – five members of the World Cup team have either been dropped or are unavailable – and the list of 25 probables released by the Pakistan cricket board offers little indication of the final composition. Zaheer, Mohsin, Mudassar, Miandad and leg spinner Abdul Qadir are the only sure bets with the possible addition of wicket-keeper Wasim Bari.The omission of Sarfaraz Nawaz, the controversial opening bowler, leaves a major question mark hanging over Pakistan’s opening attack. The list of 25 contains three new medium pacers in Azim Hafeez, Asif Afridi and Atiquar Rehman of whom very little is known.advertisementThe three other pace bowlers in the list, Tahir Naqqash, Sikandar Bakht and Jalaluddin have represented the national side often enough to realise that they are hardly in the class of Imran or Sarfaraz.Kapil says that the Pakistani bowling attack will be more or less on par with the Indians which would mean two out of the six being selected with Mudassar coming on as the third medium pacer. The spinner who will assist Abdul Qadir could possibly be off-spinner Nazir Junior who was not in the original list of 38 probables but has been included now.Surmises: Based on the laws of probability, India starts the series with a clear edge. Kapil’s captaincy has flowered and he is hardly likely to make the kind of mistakes or errors of judgement he did in the West Indies or Pakistan. Zaheer, on the other hand, will be playing his first series as captain and though he has vast experience he still has to prove he can handle the rigours and the responsibility.India will also have the decided advantage of playing on home grounds and home crowds which undeniably make some differrence in a five-day match. With the bowling attack on both sides more or less on par the crucial factor will be in the batting. Pakistan batsmen have proved over and over again that when one batsman clicks the rest do too but they are highly susceptible to pressure. Zaheer, the best of the Pakistan batting lineup, had a miserable series in India during the last series and that should be weighing heavily on his mind.India, on the other hand, has shown that their batsmen are in rare form with the exception of Gavaskar, Amarnath, Yashpal, Patil, Srikkanth and Kapil have all been among the runs and much will therefore depend on Gavaskar.After his string of poor scores, Gavaskar seems to have recovered his voracious appetite for runs with scores of 81 and 174 against the Tamil Nadu President’s Eleven in Madras last fortnight. If Gavaskar is giving warning of his return to form, then Zaheer Abbas and his men should have plenty to worry about.