London: Hold on to your hats. Make no plans for Sunday. Take the telephone off the hook. Don’t answer the door to visitors or guests. It’s that time once again when the cricketing world stops in its tracks to watch India versus Pakistan.
The 25,000 lucky souls who have tickets for the much awaited Champions Trophy clash at Edgbaston on Sunday are in for a treat. Forget El Clasico, the Milan derby or Merseyside derby, or North-London derby, forget The Ashes; India versus Pakistan is a unique rivalry.
The colour, the noise, the atmosphere, the banter; there’s nothing quite like an Indo-Pak cricketing encounter. The culture, the food, the language and the traditions maybe similar and shared between the two rivals, but when it comes to cricket, there is no love lost between fans and players of India and Pakistan.
Sunday’s encounter gives fans the opportunity to brag, the chance to get one over their rivals until the next time the two cricketing giants meet. In an India-Pakistan match, there’s no such thing as “well tried” or “we nearly won” for the fans. It’s win at all costs; nothing else matters, nothing else is acceptable.
India head into the Champions Trophy clash against Pakistan as clear favourites. Even the most die-hard Pakistani fans will admit that Virat Kohli and his team will be the team expected to win at Edgbaston. The reigning champions have had the upper hand over Pakistan in recent times and have an experienced, in-form, and star-studded squad at their disposal. Pace bowlers who specialise in taking wickets, world-class spinners, and a batting order that can frighten any opposition – India is undoubtedly the team to beat.
However, form, experience, and reputations go out the window when it comes to India versus Pakistan. What usually ensues is some chaos, some brilliance, some mediocrity, occasional controversy, with heroes being made for a lifetime and villains who are remembered for years.
Pakistani players India should watch out for
So who can Pakistan expect to rise to the occasion and be their potential match-winners on Sunday? A lot will depend on the experienced Shoaib Malik, who is among the few current Pakistani players that have previously played a number of matches against India. Malik brings aggression with the bat to a somewhat brittle batting line-up and has the ability to add some urgency in the running between the wickets. He is also one of only few Pakistani batsmen who can hit the ball out of the park on a regular basis when required. A good day for Shoaib Malik more often than not means a good day for Pakistan.
Babar Azam is a name that is on the lips of many cricket fans around the world. His fan base is ever increasing, as he displays an elegance and temperament that have won him admirers all over the world. Such is his potential that Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur even stated that Babar has the potential to be a Pakistani version of Virat Kohli – high praise indeed. Babar’s batting philosophy is based on a calm and measured approach and his cool head could be vital in the red-hot surroundings of Edgbaston. In-form, mature beyond his years, and with a great attitude, Babar could be Pakistan’s go-to batsman against a lively and effective Indian bowling attack.
Shadab Khan, only 18 years of age, is a name that was largely unheard a few months ago. However the Pakistan Super League launched his career with a bang. The teenager impressed seasoned cricket-watchers and former players with his performances for Islamabad United and then carried on his fantastic form into the limited overs series against West Indies. Displaying maturity, guile and a cool head, Shadab looks set for a great future. He faces a huge challenge against an Indian batting line-up that usually feasts on opposition spinners. If he plays, he will targeted by Kohli and Co, but don’t expect Shadab to hide and bowl with fear. His googly is a fantastic weapon and he could be Pakistan’s trump card.
Mohammad Amir has earned high praise from Kohli since his international comeback after the spot-fixing ban. Kohli’s support for Amir won the Indian skipper many admirers in Pakistan and the mutual respect between the two is widely recognised. However all friendships and appreciation for opposition players will go out of the window once that first ball is bowled. The Amir versus Kohli battle could be pivotal. If Amir gets Kohli early, the pressure on the Indian batsmen will definitely increase, but if Kohli sees off Amir, then the Indian skipper could be in line for another one of his special innings. Amir has not been at his best since returning to international cricket, but the signs during the tour of the West Indies were promising as his pace, ability to swing the ball and his aggression were clearly visible. Amir is the leader of the Pakistan bowling pack and if conditions suit him and he’s at his best, he could be Pakistan’s best chance for a surprise victory.
Pakistani chances will depend on some wise and experienced heads like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Amir, but what will be fascinating to see is how the young guns like Babar Azam, Shadab Khan, and Fahim Ashraf respond to the biggest game of their lives so far. Youth has no fear and Pakistan will be relying heavily on their youngsters to be at their best on Sunday.
There is every chance that India will come out as victors in Birmingham, but many who have written-off Pakistan cricket teams in the past have had their fingers burnt. Sunday’s clash sees Pakistan with nothing to lose and everything to gain – a situation which quite often sees them at their best.