I have fantastic memories of watching India and Pakistan playing international cricket. I was transfixed by this showdown. My mind goes back some 30 years to what for me is the abiding memory, the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985. India defeated Pakistan in the league clash, and then again in the final; those two matches are etched in my mind. This was my defining moment. We grew up seeing that emotion and passion of Indian cricket, and soon became a part of that emotion and passion.
As kids then, we weren’t shy of knocking the doors in the early hours of our neighbours house, who had Tv sets. We witnessed the match and gave no scope for mistakes in an India-Pakistan clash. Every action was discussed at length. The bowlers were not allowed to send down four or six-balls, the batsmen were not allowed to play dots. That was the kind of pressure we put the players under. Every match was dissected over a cup of tea for several evenings, and with the greatest intensity. I can state with certainty that very little has changed, at least for me.
The sense of excitement that used to build up days in advance, first as a school and college kid, and then as an international player, is still very much a part of my DNA today. In fact, my preparations for Sunday’s game began three or four days back. it is preparation of a different kind from when I was a player, but it is still preparation of the mind, with the keen anticipation of a classic contest.
I have heard a lot of talk about how, having won all five matches between the teams in the World Cup so far, the law of averages can catch up with India. I don’t know about that; I believe India have the edge, but as we have seen so often in the past, you only write Pakistan off at your own peril.
What is undeniable is that India’s batsmen will have to steer this match. There can be no slip-ups as far as the batsmen are concerned, at least four of the top six batsmen will have to click in every match as such but especially in this game. The teams would have met few times for to discuss the strategies and plans.
If the Indian team is looking up to Virat to deliver on such occasion, Pakistan would put up Umar Akmal to give impetus. Discussion would be rife on how crucial is every hour of the match.
Teams need to be savvy enough to set targets, and to keep reassessing those targets as the game unfolds. The important thing is not to aim at just winning the match, it is about navigating through every hour of the seven-hour game – that is the niche element.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal bring depth into their line-up. Afridi’s dangerous ways and the tall Irfan’s bowling could be the talking point in the Indian team meetings. In the end it boils down to what is basically a tug of war between the two batting units and despite the skill-sets Pakistan’s batsmen possess, India seem the stronger batting unit. And it is the stronger of the Indian suits, batting, that must deliver to make the decisive difference.
The other intriguing thing about India v Pakistan is that the pressure of the occasion neutralises the absence of key players, no matter from which team. Irrespective of whoever the personnel might be, this is essentially a must-win game for both teams.
Factors such as the playing XI, the weather conditions, the nature of the pitch – all that become totally irrelevant. When you strip it down to the bare minimum, it’s all about performing, it’s about all 11 on the park performing. Nothing can take the intensity out of this contest. But this is one match that will help players make a huge impact on the psyche of the fans.
Amidst all the pressure, if there is a stellar performance from a relatively unsung player, it will be a tremendous boost to his career. Star performers from this match will set themselves up for greater things to come. That will be the ultimate goal, but for that, the immediate, non-negotiable goal must be attained on Sunday – victory, sweet victory.
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