It's hard to remember when last a team was in such disarray before a must-win Test match. Pakistan's injury problems began as a bothersome aside but have now taken centre stage as they have only three fit bowlers going into the Kolkata Test. India, on the other hand, are sitting pretty, with their one doubtful starter, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, having recovered fully from a twisted ankle. An SOS has been sent to the Pakistan selectors, but with flight connectivity to Kolkata not being the greatest, it will be a challenge to get someone in with enough time to spare to take the field in the second Test.
More than a few experts have been surprised by the rise of Sohail Tanvir, who with his unorthodox action, delivering not quite off the wrong foot but releasing the ball before his leading foot lands, first was a novelty in Twenty20 cricket, and then sneaked into the one-day team. Now, with one Test under his belt, he leads Pakistan's pace attack, with Umar Gul out, and Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami struggling with chest infection and illness. Tanvir has Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman as his only fully fit bowling partners.
Although India must be secretly boosted by Pakistan's troubles, Anil Kumble insists his team are not thinking of the composition of the opposition side. "Ideally we should look to control what we can control. The team is raring to go and that is a good sign," said Kumble a day before the game.
It's not a bad approach to take, for Pakistan could just be at their most dangerous if Shoaib or Sami, or ideally for them, both, are somehow fit when play begins on Friday, although that seems desperately unlikely. Pakistan now truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and this will mean that any relief they get is a positive and should boost them going into the game.
India, meanwhile, have a choice of their own to make, with a thought to bring in a third spinner in Murali Kartik. However, in order to do so, they will have to do some significant juggling, either using one of the middle-order batsmen as an opener, and leave out Dinesh Karthik, who has scored heavily in Tests this year, barring the last game, or play just one fast bowler and use Sourav Ganguly as a medium-pace option. Both seem unlikely, though Ganguly did play a significant part with the ball in the first Test.
"I think Sourav has done well in the last game, and I don't think he should change whatever he has been doing to satisfy your definition of success," said Kumble when asked about Ganguly's effort with the ball. "I think his role in the team, as a bowler it was very important for us in Kotla. I am sure he will get a bit of bowl here as well. I hope he will be more successful here than in Kotla."
Either way, the decision on the playing eleven will be made late in the day, after consultation with Dilip Vengsarkar, who is expected to arrive in Kolkata on the eve of the match. The only thing that could tempt the Indians into playing three spinners is the pitch, but it's tough to say if there are strong enough indications that the pitch will crumble. The curator insists it will begin to take turn on the third day, but such predictions are dangerous.
"It seems to be a decent wicket and it should play well," said Kumble. "But it is for us to take the momentum from Kotla and ensure that we turn the screws on early. We need to bat to our potential, and we should not let them off the hook as we had done in the first innings in Kotla." What makes it harder to believe that the Indians will play three spinners is the fact that Harbhajan Singh was quite significantly under-bowled in the first Test. He bowled 15 overs in the first innings and 17 in the second, and on both occasions even Zaheer Khan had sent down more overs.
It's too early to judge Kumble the captain, after just one Test match, but already he appears to be a man in control of his team. He's been playing the game at the highest level for 17 long years and there's little he has not experienced first hand.
Malik, however, barely portrays the same picture. Again it would be unfair to slate Malik without inside knowledge of how he interacted with his team, but on the field he has not looked a leader. He has looked like just one of the boys, and with the results not coming, and the runs also reducing to a trickle, the pressure is fairly and squarely on Malik. One thing's pretty clear, though, if he gets through these testing times unscathed, things are only going to get easier for him.