x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Focus on middle order after Tendulkar as India take on Pakistan

The one-day series sees the recall of Yuvraj Singh with Virat Kohli in good knick, while Pakistan drop Afridi.

Yuvraj Singh, a veteran of 274 ODIs, has grabbed his chances since returning from cancer treatment.
Yuvraj Singh, a veteran of 274 ODIs, has grabbed his chances since returning from cancer treatment.

India will begin life without Sachin Tendulkar when they host Pakistan in their one-day international series, which begins today.

Tendulkar, 39, called time on his record-shattering 50-over career earlier this month, leaving India with a hole to fill in their batting line-up as they prepare for their World Cup defence.

India have just over two years to find a replacement for a player who scored a world record 18,526 ODI runs in 463 appearances for his country.

MS Dhoni's side are hardly short on candidates to try to fill the role with the likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane set to draw the focus of attention after standing in the shadows of Tendulkar at the start of their careers.

Of that trio, Kohli looks the most equipped to handle the pressure set to fall upon India's young batsmen following his stellar 2012.

The 24 year old is third in the list of ODI run scorers this year with 1,026 runs, and five centuries, in just 16 games. The two men in front of him, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, have played almost double the number of matches yet could be caught before the year's end.

While Kohli has busied himself becoming India's hero-in-waiting over the past 12 months it could be that a man who has not played since last year's World Cup success is their most important player in the post-Tendulkar era.

Amid the many stories to prelude Pakistan's first bilateral tour of India in almost five years the return of the veteran Yuvraj Singh to the 50-over squad has almost been overlooked.

The 31 year old has recovered from his cancer battle, which left him hospitalised in America, to make an emotional return to India colours in recent months.

While his return has not been smooth sailing - he had mixed results as India lost the Test series against England 2-1 - he reminded all of his destructive class in Friday's second Twenty20 against Pakistan.

Yuvraj's unbeaten 72 from 36 balls, which included seven sixes, blasted India to a Twenty20 series-levelling win, and marked him as a man who can hold the fortunes of India's limited-overs teams.

"I don't think of hitting a six. I just back myself to react with my natural instincts," he said afterwards. "If it is there to be hit, I will hit it. I am just trying to watch the ball because if you make plans early and the ball is not there to be hit, you get out."

Yuvraj is one of six changes to India's ODI squad for the three-match series which begins in Chennai today. The opener Virender Sehwag survived the axe, despite his recent struggles, with Ravindra Jadeja drafted in to bolster the batting.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Shami Ahmed and Amit Mishra have also been included.

Pakistan also made six changes with the all-rounder Shahid Afridi the highest-profile casualty.

Abdur Rehman, Aizaz Cheema, Sohail Tanvir, Shoaib Malik and the injured Asad Shafiq were also left out.

"Dropping Afridi was a difficult decision," Pakistan's chief selector Iqbal Qasim said.

"He is no doubt a great player and has the ability to win a game, but the decision has been taken in the interest of the team."

The veteran Younis Khan, 35, is set to make his return after being recalled along with Haris Sohail, Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, and Zulfiqar Babar.

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