KR SPORTS EDITOR
SRINAGAR: Shahid Afridi in a jittery stance waiting for Ashwin to bowl with nine runs needed off last four was the most defining sub plot of marquee India-Pakistan Asia Cup clash. Afridi, the boom boom, won over Afridi, the bust bust, and scythed low on confidence Ashwin for consecutive sixes. Afridi won the game for his country and won over million hearts round the world. And, dashed hopes of millions of Indian supporters. That day, Afridi, the star, emerged as Afridi, the superstar.
This is what Indo-Pak encounters all about. March 2 evening at Mirpur summed up it all. For, emotions, expectations, excitement, enthusiasm and that one out of blue moment are the lyrics of Indo-Pak encounters.
The arch-rivals will be on park yet again for the opening game of World Twenty20 on Friday at Mirpur with everything to play for. Without any doubt, the best-seller in the tourney by some distance.
It will feature two of the most sought after T20 sides on the globe who have been part of many an epic clash in all three formats of the sports. The clash will have Indian subcontinent on its feet Friday evening with players from either side playing their trade with second to none intensity level. Skill levels will go to another level and camaraderie between the opponents would count for nothing. A boundary hit have millions delirious, a wicket fallen would mean an equal number shattered, nail biting would become a common sight and, heroes would fashioned as the game wears on.
Pakistan fans would market that their team has a wood on India after overpowering them in March 2 Asia Cup clash, and Indians would hit back with their most cherished stat yet: Pakistan has never defeated Indian in World Cup clashes. Stat lovers would come with this and that; diehard fans wouldn’t budge an inch to concede that they are the favourites for the game. Diehard fans live on hope that gives lifeless life a meaning and it would that hope that will make cricket nerds from either side believe that they have a better chance to win the encounter.
Hope, stats, form and history go to the bed when teams cross the boundary. The result will be decided by the performance than previous records.
A cursory look at the both teams would suggest it is a contest between power packed Indian lineup and bowling heavy Pakistan.
If Kohli is the lead actor in Indian batting department, Pakistan can claim to have perennial box office hit Ajmal to overrule the former’s ascendancy. Pakistan team management would like to believe the return of batting for Afridi gives them that gun player who can turn the game on its head in just a matter of an over or two, and India will strongly feel that they have a batting insurance in their skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has a nose for big occasion.
Indian will be aware of the fact their death bowling has been found wanting over the last two years or so, and Pakistan will take heart from having Umar Gul-one of the best exponents of a Yorker in the back end of the innings-in their ranks to arrest the Indian late onslaught.
Having a formidable batting lineup gives India edge in the clash. The likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina are more than capable to dent any bowling lineup, and it would be interesting how Indians play Ajmal and co. in the middle over. With Pakistan having battery of spinners-Ajmal, Afridi and skipper Mohammad Hafeez-the game could well be decided by the middle overs-phase that will Pakistan spin trio in operation against strong players of slow bowling.
Pakistan does have a problem or two with their batting unit. Inconsistency continues to mar their progress and batsmen have been found wanting in the pressure games and tend to one shot too many. Umar Akmal and Ahmad Shehzad have shown promise in recent fixtures and Hafeez and co. would hope for translation of promise into runs in this all important game big time.
India spinners were on spot in the two warm up games, but fast bowling and openers appeared to be out of sorts. Kohli was as usual was at his flowing best and Raina was among runs too which augurs well for the Dhoni-led side.
For Pakistan, warm up games reminded them of batting frailties. Middle order had two back to back off games and so much so Pakistan were shot out for a paltry 71 against South Africa. Middle order-Shoab Malik and Akmal-need to step up if Pakistan were to match India’s batting prowess.
The result would come down to the fielding standards. As of now, India are head and shoulders above Pakistan and could prove deciding factor in the final result.
Having said that, the match could well be decided by the pressure quotient. The team that absorbs pressure well will have an edge over its opponent. As of now, India with its batting lineup and a strong leader in Dhoni will feel they have their noses infront, and Pakistan would hope for an Afridi-type intervention to get them home.
PAKISTAN VERSUS INDIA
TIME: 07:30 PM IST