History might count for nothing as old rivals take to the field in high-voltage Super Sunday clash
It’s the battle everyone looks forward to, the battle that defines a competition, the battle that fires up the players like no other.
India v Pakistan is a match-up pregnant with possibilities, an advertiser’s dream come true and the organisers’ best bet to stoke the imagination of the viewing populace.
The ICC World Twenty20 2012 has generally been well received with the onset of the Super Eights fixtures, but audiences at the ground andtelevision viewership across the globe will go through the roof when India runs into Pakistan in a vital Group 2 match.
Pakistan has the advantage of having got off to a winning start, thanks to the two Umars – Akmal and Gul – who snatched victory from the gaping jaws of defeat against South Africa on Friday evening. A few hours later, on the same pitch at the R Premadasa Stadium, India was sent on a hiding to nothing by Shane Watson and David Warner, the crushing nine-wicket defeat precisely the psychological blow India could have done without going into a showdown with Pakistan.
Defeat on Sunday night will almost certainly eliminate India, which is saddled with a poor Net Run Rate of -2.506 after conceding defeat to Australia with 5.1 overs to spare. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher will, therefore, not only have to ensure that the troops rouse themselves up for Sunday’s must-win game but also quickly put behind Friday’s drubbing from which the lessons must be learnt, but moping over which will not help India’s cause any.
India can take heart from its overwhelming record against Pakistan in ICC World Cups – it has won all five encounters in the ICC Cricket World Cup and won one and tied the other – won in a bowl-out – in ICC World Twenty20 competitions. Even though history will count for nothing, and especially in the Twenty20 format where everything happens so quickly.
India’s designs of fielding five bowlers, including three spinners, fell flat on its face against Australia because it had to grapple with a wet ball and a pitch that had livened up a little bit due to the brief spell of rain that completely changed the balance of the contest. While Dhoni might still stick with five bowlers – and that is no certainty, especially with the batting having caved in meekly against Australia – he is unlikely to play three specialist spinners against Pakistan, as accomplished players of spin as there are in world cricket today.
The teams met a little over ten days back in a warm-up match, also at the Premadasa, with Pakistan romping to victory on the back of a sensational innings from Kamran Akmal. Much water has flown under the bridge since, and just as India can’t hope to ride on its brilliant record against Pakistan in ICC World Cups, Pakistan will also know that the September 17 victory will have no bearing on Sunday’s outcome.
India v Pakistan clashes are decided as much by skills as how well the teams can control their emotions and hold their nerve. That’s where the two captains, Dhoni and Mohammad Hafeez respectively, will come into play. Both are phlegmatic, intelligent, street-smart cricketers who are calming influences within the dressing rooms, and while it is impossible to convince any Indian or Pakistani player to approach this game as just another contest, both will try their best to ensure that sentiment and passion don’t take the edge off the basics.
Pakistan has been a consistently dangerous unit during this competition, the top-order collapse on Friday against South Africa a rare blip on an otherwise complete all-round performance. Fortunately, it unearthed a batting hero in Gul, and while the horrendous selection of strokes from the specialist batsmen must be a cause for some concern, Pakistan will be buoyed by the confidence that it bats deep and possesses the firepower even late in the order to douse the opposition fire.
Not for the first time, Saeed Ajmal will hold the key. For all its ability against spin, India has found Ajmal and his outstanding variations hard to decipher. Ajmal has had such virtuosos as Sachin Tendulkar, who doesn’t play Twenty20 International cricket, under his grip; only Virat Kohli has played him with any confidence and authority, and if Ajmal can get on an early roll, he will be well nigh unplayable.
The odd moment of inspiration, that one game-breaking spell or match-changing innings, has characterised high-stake India-Pakistan clashes. Particularly in Twenty20 cricket where things can turn on their head in the shortest span of time, it will be impossible for either team to feel at any stage that it has things under control, but if anyone goes into the match sincerely believing it has all bases covered and is primed to move in for the kill, it has to be Pakistan.