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Nothing dead about India-Pakistan rubber

India assured of semi-final spot, and this is Pakistan’s last game, but there’s no such thing as a ‘meaningless’ India-Pakistan encounter

Nothing dead about India-Pakistan rubber - Cricket News
Pakistan’s batting, Misbah-ul-Haq and Nasir Jamshed aside, hasn’t turned up in this tournament.
This part of the world knows a thing or two about sporting rivalries. Passions run high when Birmingham City plays Aston Villa or when West Bromwich Albion takes on Wolverhampton Wanderers. Thousands get involved, and with the grounds so close to each other, there’s no such thing as the friendly neighbour.  

When India plays Pakistan, however, the numbers watching run to the millions. During the bigger games, like the World Cup semi-final in 2011, it’s common to see some of the world’s most sprawling cities deserted as people gather around televisions wherever they can find them. There’s no such thing as a ‘meaningless’ India-Pakistan game, just as it doesn’t matter to the inhabitants of England’s second city where Birmingham and Villa are in the table when they play each other. You want to win.  

That said, in the context of a short-and-sharp tournament where every result counts, there’s very little at stake. Pakistan cannot qualify for the last four, while India is already guaranteed a Cardiff semifinal. It’s the first time India has reached that stage of the Champions Trophy since 2002 – when they shared the trophy with Sri Lanka – while for Pakistan, it’s the first time since the Caribbean World Cup in 2007 that it hasn’t qualified for the semis of an ICC event.  

While India has won all five World Cup matches dating back to 1992, Pakistan holds a 2-0 edge in Champions Trophy contests. Pakistan also has 38 wins to India’s 27 at neutral venues. None of those numbers are likely to matter though on Saturday (June 15). India came into this tournament under a cloud after all the IPL-related scandals back home. After two brilliant wins, MS Dhoni is no longer being asked awkward questions.  

For Misbah-ul-Haq, there are only those. People openly query whether he’s the right man to lead Pakistan to Australia in 2015. They find fault with a selection panel that has persisted with players that have played for over a decade with very little to show for it. Six months after the high of a 2-1 series win in India, Pakistan cricket finds itself at another crossroads.  

The relentless criticism from back home may just prompt some changes. Imran Farhat could be one of those to make way. If Asad Shafiq comes in, either Kamran Akmal or Mohammad Hafeez will be asked to open with Nasir Jamshed. The bowlers have done the job for Pakistan. The batsmen haven’t, but those who criticise Misbah and the team management don’t acknowledge that there’s no Inzamam-ul-Haq on the bench as there was in the early ’90s glory years.  

India has moved on from the core that won them the 2011 World Cup. Those that have taken their places, like Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja, have starred in the campaign so far. It’s the high-pressure games, however, that will be the true test.  

Despite not needing the points, India is unlikely to tinker with the side that won the first two matches. When they met in December-January, the left-arm duo of Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan embarrassed them. The third prong in this tournament, Wahab Riaz, is another left-armer, and he took five wickets against them in that 2011 semi-final.  

Pakistan’s batting, Misbah and Jamshed aside, hasn’t turned up in this tournament, and was the major cause of their exit. But there are men in the squad, like Akmal and Shoaib Malik, who have always saved their best for the team from across the Radcliffe Line. Some of those careers may be winding down, and India should be wary of a final crescendo.  

The day before the game, the weather was miserable, with leaden skies and steady drizzle. The forecast for Saturday is not promising, but if the clouds do clear, this should be quite a game, in front of a full house. Meaningless in the context of the tournament, but not to those playing and watching.

Teams:
India (likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Pakistan (likely): Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Asad Shafiq, Umar Amin, Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan.  

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