14 February 2015
India v Pakistan preview, Match 4, at Adelaide Oval
India will try to defend a proud World Cup record while Misbah-ul-Haq’s men will relish the opportunity of creating history
India's inexperienced bowlers will be under pressure to perform well against arch rivals Pakistan.
Unperturbed – or perhaps not – by the goings-on around them, India and Pakistan applied final touches to their preparations, trying their best to ensure that all bases are covered going into their opening match of the World Cup. It was impossible not to be touched by the attention outside the practice area and in the stands during the batting/bowling and the fielding/catching drills respectively, but amid all the cacophony around them, both sides maintained unwavering focus ahead of Sunday’s (February 15) massive showdown.
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The MCG ushered in the World Cup’s first marquee contest on Saturday when Australia took on England. The atmosphere there was quite something, but the colourful subcontinental fans could take it to another level as they drape the Adelaide Oval in a sea of India’s saffron, green and white, and Pakistan’s green and white. You will perhaps be able to cut through the tension with a knife, but much of the tension will be confined to the stands.
Out in the middle, India will try to defend a proud World Cup record while Misbah-ul-Haq’s men will relish the opportunity of creating history by becoming the first Pakistani team to register a World Cup win over its cross-border neighbours. There is never a lack of context when India and Pakistan meet on the cricket field; the stage and the fascinating sub-plots will add a whole new dimension this time around as the protagonists plot that early coup that can drive their charge through the Pool B draw.
Despite missing key personnel, Pakistan still wears a formidable look, not least because Shahid Afridi has returned to the kind of big-hitting touch that earned him the sobriquet ‘Boom Boom’. Under Misbah, Pakistan has added steel and substance to the ever-present flair and flamboyance. It is still susceptible when the pressure is piled on – who isn’t? – but there is a greater stability to this side than Pakistani teams of the past, partly also due to the return to the side of Younus Khan.
Effortless intimidation is fast becoming a Mohammad Irfan speciality. The towering left-arm paceman looms as the single biggest threat in the Pakistani bowling group as he delivers the ball from over nine feet. He should enjoy pitches here in Australia that encourage bounce, and if he is anywhere near 80% accurate, India’s batsmen could be in trouble. How well India’s openers see off the Irfan threat with the new ball, and what kind of platform they set for the explosive line-up to follow, will dictate what path India’s batting will chart at the Oval.
The batting is an area of concern for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s defending champions, who have only four men standing from the victorious class of 2011. All tour long, Shikhar Dhawan has been in the wars, though he showed heartening signs against Australia at the same venue in the warm-up last Sunday in making a sparkling half-century. The focus will be on Virat Kohli, who had a fairytale Test series that netted him four hundreds in as many games.
The Delhi pair, left-handed and right, can ill afford failure, because early wickets could force even Dhoni, the free-flowing, nerveless Dhoni, to a more circumspect and conservative approach.
India’s batsmen must bat not just for themselves, but also for their inexperienced bowlers. Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami are pacy, but have to display discipline, and the spinners must step up in the middle overs where the focus has to be on wicket-taking rather than run-restriction.
Enough of the theorising, though. The long wait will be over soon enough. The enterprising ad man might project this as Repeat or Revenge? – for once, he may not be far from the truth.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Pakistan: Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed, Younus Khan, Umar Akmal, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Sohaib Maqsood, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Shahid Afridi, Haris Sohail, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Ehsan Adil, Rahat Ali, Sohail Khan.
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