One of the most exciting and much awaited ICC World Cup matches, between sub-continent arch-rivals Pakistan and India, is to be played at the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester today.
How the people are taking this match can be judged from the fact that all tickets for today’s encounter sold out within a few hours and according to some reports it is expected to attract more than a billion viewers.
Cricket is by far the most popular sport in the sub-continent. No other form of entertainment creates as much excitement and enthusiasm in this part of the world as cricket does. People of both countries take it as a war, even if it is only a round match of a tournament.
But not only in Pakistan and India, cricket fans around the world have been waiting for the high-voltage game.
The expectations of the people put extra pressure on both sides. It is a battle of nerves as much as it is of talent and experience.
In 50-overs World Cups, India and Pakistan have met six times and India have won every time: at Sydney on March 4, 1992, by 43 runs; at Bangalore on March 9, 1996, by 39 runs; at Old Trafford on June 8, 1999, by 47 runs; at Centurion on March 1, 2003, by six wickets; at Mohali on March 30, 2011, by 29 runs and at Adelaide by 76 runs on February 15, 2015.
But history is past and one really can’t depend on it. Pakistan beat India in the ICC Champions Trophy final in 2017 in England. Champions Trophy is the most prestigious ODI tournament after the World Cup.
Currently India are second in the ICC ranking, and Pakistan are far behind at the sixth spot.
On paper India is very strong but on field they will be under tremendous pressure to keep their unbeaten record against Pakistan intact.
India were always considered better in batting and Pakistan in bowling, but now India has a very balanced bowling attack consisting of fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and quality spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
On the other hand, Pakistan batting in recent years has improved a lot, with Fakhar Zaman, Imamul Haq, Baber Azam, Muhammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, who have done well against India in the past.
But batting against Australia in the last game raised many questions. Fakhar, Babar, Imam, Hafeez and Asif Ali all threw their wickets carelessly. If they played like that against India it will be difficult for Pakistan to break the World Cup jinx.
Pakistan can only win if they play as they did in the Champions Trophy final.
Talking about the much-awaited clash, former Pakistan skipper Younis Khan said: “The current Indian team is very experienced and the core group has been playing cricket for a long time now. Pakistan on the other hand has some young and exciting players who have just burst on to the international stage and when young players come in they don’t know what pressure is.
“Pakistan didn’t start well in the World Cup but we have always been slow starters. I hope they gradually go up in this tournament,” Younis said.
Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has said that bowling would be the key for Pakistan during this World Cup. “Pakistan have the skills, especially in their bowling department. They can bowl out any team if they have the runs on the board,” he added.
Former fast bowler Aaqib Javed, who was part of the 1992 winning team, said Pakistan chances would be higher if the Green-shirts won the toss and batted first. “But if the Indians bat first and post a decent total on the board it will be difficult for Pakistan to chase,” he said.
Former Pakistan captain Moin Khan said the present national team has the firepower to break its World Cup jinx against India.
“This present team is very capable of recording the first win over India in a World Cup because there is talent, there is depth and variety and Sarfaraz Ahmed has now gelled the squad well, and this time I am confident of Pakistan win,” Moin said in a TV interview.
Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed is confident that they can beat India. “We will be as positive and aggressive as we were against England. That is the level of performance we want,” he added.
Pakistani players and fans are desperate to avenge all their World Cup defeats and the Green-shirts can do it if the batting and the fielding provide full support to the bowling.
The threat of rain for today’s high voltage game still persists especially in the second-half of the match. If the game is washed out, it will be a great disappointment for the spectators.