A rivalry that transcends beyond the realms of 22-yards — mostly tugging at the basest of emotions but often accompanied by a distasteful build-up — will be reignited when India and Pakistan square off in a World Cup encounter in Manchester on Sunday.
There are many fascinating sub-plots that are bound to be in play as is always the case when these two sides meet but the biggest worry in the lead-up has been the possibility of rain providing an anti-climactic twist.
The routine with these matches is simple: while the players and staff involved tell you it’s just another match, former greats and pundits (who would have probably said the same if they were still playing) talk about the tensions, the sleeplessness, the gravity of the occasion that an India-Pakistan match at the World Cup brings.
One things is certain, though: deep down the players in their hearts know that this is a special match even if at times the reason in purely non-cricketing.
India vs Pakistan at the World Cup
|1992, Sydney||India won by 43 runs|| India: 216/7 (49)|
Pakistan: 173/10 (48.1)
|1996, Bengaluru||India won by 39 runs|| India: 287/6 (50)|
Pakistan: 248/9 (49)
|1999, Manchester||India won by 47 runs|| India: 227/6 (50)|
Pakistan: 180/10 (45.3)
|2003, Centurion||India won by 6 wickets|| Pakistan: 273/7 (50)|
India: 276/4 (45.4)
|2011, Mohali||India won by 29 runs|| India: 260/9 (50)|
Pakistan: 231/10 (49.5)
|2015, Adelaide||India won by 76 runs|| India: 300/7 (50)|
Pakistan: 227/10 (47)
India vs Pakistan Head-to-Head
|Matches Played||India Won||Pakistan Won|
|Overall (ODIs)||131 [N/R: 4]||54||73|
|ICC events [World Cup and Champions Trophy]||11||8||3|
|Asia Cup||12 [N/R: 1]||6||5|
When it comes to purely cricketing logic, and given that all the six World Cup duels that India have won have been pretty one-sided, Virat Kohli and Co should start firm favourites. But the Indian captain has made sure, as is the norm these days, to play down both the pressure and expectations, choosing to focus on the bigger picture.
Pakistan have (typically) blown hot and cold in the tournament so far. Swinging from bizarre to the brilliant and back to bizarre is nothing new for the 1992 champions but after the loss against Australia, they would be desperate for a win.
On the field, Mohammad Amir’s first spell will certainly keep his team interested after a brilliant performance against Australia. From almost missing out on the squad for the World Cup, the left-arm pacer has roared back to form to establish himself as the trump card for Sarfaraz Ahmed’s side.
KL Rahul, all set to return to the top order, and Rohit Sharma are bound to face their toughest test yet. Both are known to have their issues against left-arm seam and their minimal footwork at the beginning of an innings will provide Amir, along with Wahab Riaz, a chance to make early inroads.
For those who saw the 2003 match with much excitement, it should come as no surprise that Sachin Tendulkar has urged Indian batsmen to be more aggressive against a skillful Amir unlike the 2017 Champions Trophy. In the only World Cup match between the two where India chased a total, Tendulkar took the attack to the deadly Wasim-Waqar-Shoaib trio and succeeded in style. This Indian team, however, does like to take their time in the first powerplay of One-Day Internationals before shifting through the gears later in the match.
Skipper Kohli refused to be drawn into one-on-one battles and spoke about the importance of a stable mind-set even if the first-timers may find the occasion intimidating.
Kohli has always enjoyed a fabulous track record against Pakistan, having scored a hundred in the 2015 game at Adelaide. His ODI career-best came against the arch-rivals as well, when he scored 183 in the 2012 Asia Cup. A hundred is due for him at this World Cup and the Indian captain’s sense of occasion makes him a big contender for a three-figure mark. It will be a test of temperament for youngsters like Hassan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi, who have hardly bowled to the world’s best batsman.
India’s middle-order will have a role to play in the game. Dinesh Karthik’s experience was supposedly the choice of the team management in the last game and that was factoring in a curtailed game, which could very well be the case on Sunday. In case of a full game, Vijay Shankar could be the No 4 if India wants a few overs of seam bowling or else they might stick with Karthik, who has more experience of pressure situations.
The seaming conditions and Pakistan’s comfort against spinners might prompt Kohli to go for Mohammed Shami, who could be devastating in these conditions, in place of a spinner. Bhuvneshwar Kumar would like to bowl that probing off-stump line which can keep the opposition’s best bet, Babar Azam, in check. Mohammad Hafeez’s will be another key player in the middle overs and will be tested by the likes of Hardik Pandya.
One of the other sub-plots will involve a famous (or infamous depending on your allegiance) moment in the Champions Trophy 2017 final. Jasprit Bumrah will have a score to settle against Fakhar Zaman, bowling against whom, the last thing he would want is to overstep. When that happened at The Oval in 2017, Zaman went on to score a match-winning century.
Last but not the least, Mahendra Singh Dhoni will marshall his troops from the back and that could well be India’s trump card.
It’s not a secret anymore that matches between these two countries are often disappointing cricketing affairs. It’s not a secret anymore that India are a much better team than Pakistan these days. And the results have reflected that every time these two have met in the past few years, with the possible exception of the Champions Trophy final in 2017.
Some of the build-up ahead of the match across borders has been cringeworthy, but all said and done, when (or if) the teams line up for the national anthems at Old Trafford, the anticipation among fans will be like no other. It’s up to the 22 cricketers involved to make the contest worth the hype.
What’s been said
“We’ve got 15 incredible cricketers in that dressing room, and we keep stressing to them, how do you want to be remembered? You’re the Class of 2019. What are they going to say about you in history? And Sunday presents an unbelievable opportunity for these guys to really make a mark.”— Mickey Arthur, Pakistan coach
“The game starts at a certain time and finishes at a certain time. So this is not going to last a lifetime, if you do well or even if you don’t. Whether we do well or not [on Sunday], it’s not going to finish. The tournament still has to go on and focus has to be on larger picture. No one person takes more pressure than the others. Eleven guys share the responsibility. The weather is not in anyone’s hands. We have to see whatever amount of game we get, we need to be mentally ready to do whatever we need to.”— Virat Kohli, India captain
India: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Vijay Shankar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohmmed Shami, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan.
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Hassan Ali, Shahdab Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammed Hasnain, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Mohammed Aamir, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Asif Ali.
Match Starts at 3 pm IST.
[Inputs from PTI]