Home Sports Welcome to India vs Pakistan at the World Cup – part eight

Welcome to India vs Pakistan at the World Cup – part eight

Welcome to India vs Pakistan at the World Cup – part eight


Big Picture – Can the teams shut out the noise?

There was thunder and lightning. Rain that began as a passing shower turned into a deluge, sending people scurrying for cover to preserve – guess what? – their physical match ticket so that they could return the next day to watch a game of cricket, the IPL final no less.

It turned out to be the match of the tournament, and perhaps for many of the fans, their lives. As people made a beeline for the exit at 3am, more than 30 hours after the match was scheduled to have begun, several were still revelling in the festivities that followed that emotional roller-coaster of a final.

Ahmedabad was the epicentre of Indian cricket that night, and the promise of a similar occasion, perhaps even grander, later in the year for a match they were all sure would be held in Ahmedabad, excited them.

That grand occasion is nearly here.

On Saturday, Ahmedabad won’t just be the epicentre of Indian cricket, but world cricket, with 132,000 people – a decent chunk being celebrities, industrialists, politicians, friends of politicians and, of course, cricket administrators – congregating at what they say is the world’s biggest cricket stadium to witness a match that makes the cricket economy – bilateral non-relations notwithstanding.

Welcome to instalment eight of India vs Pakistan at men’s 50-over World Cups. Depending on whether you plan to sport blue or green on the day, you probably feel like gloating over that unmatched record or need no reminding of the duck you hope will become “ek-saath”. In literal terms, that means “together” – like administrators from both sides who spar at boardrooms and in the media will be – but in this cricketing context, it refers to the scoreline that Pakistani fans, and the players, will hope for at the end of the night: 1-7.

Pakistan have spent two weeks in Hyderabad, and are among the teams that will travel the least at this World Cup. Whether by design or accident, that should be a blessing in disguise, for a game of this magnitude will need plenty of recovering from anyway. And in a twisted sort of way, perhaps, the Pakistan players will have a tad easier, in that at least they won’t need to be juggling match passes for long lists of friends and family – due to all the visa issues.

It’s the kind of game that can take up mind space for days, if not longer. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, revealed that Centurion, and nothing else, was on his mind for over a month, until the sides met on that memorable day in March 2003, because he was reminded of it wherever he went and by whomever he met – from those on room-service duty to the fans to the media. MS Dhoni, whose hotel room was apparently never shut while on tour, decided he needed to make an exception ahead of the 2011 Mohali semi-final.

In a nutshell that’s the essence of India vs Pakistan.

Form guide

India WWLWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
Pakistan WWLWW

In the spotlight: Jasprit Bumrah and Abdullah Shafique

Jasprit Bumrah will be playing a World Cup game on his home ground, but seems immune to all the pressure. When the inevitable question on playing Pakistan at the Narendra Modi Stadium came up at a press interaction, he quipped he was more keen to first make a quick dash home to visit his mum. And if he’s got his head in the right place, form is on his side too: Bumrah heads into the game on the back of a stellar show against Afghanistan, a four-wicket haul that would have won him the match honours on most nights but was overshadowed by a Rohit Sharma special that time.

Abdullah Shafique would not have been playing had Fakhar Zaman shown a semblance of form in the lead-up to the tournament. But, on World Cup debut, his century and his partnership with Mohammad Rizwan helped put together a record chase against Sri Lanka. Expectations are bound to rise, but he seems level-headed enough to deal with the attention that may come his way. Saturday will be a test of that.

Team news: Shubman Gill very much in the picture

Shubman Gill, who missed India’s first two games with dengue, has recovered well enough to have a 99% chance of playing the game. He had had a net session immediately upon arrival in Ahmedabad, where he joined up with the rest of the team after a spell away to recover. If that 1% comes into play and Gill doesn’t feature on Saturday, it’s likely Ishan Kishan will continue to open. Only last month, Kishan counter-punched to make an 81-ball 82 against Pakistan in Pallekele, so there’s enough recent evidence of his being quite ready to face an attack of this quality.

The other question the team management will come up against is whether they want to go with hard data from the venue, which suggests pacers have it better than spinners. In four ODIs here since 2021, pacers have bowled a bigger percentage of overs than spinners (59.8% versus 40.2%) and have more wickets (38 to spin’s 23). If India do go with this, they may take a punt on Mohammed Shami, who has had two stellar IPLs playing his home games at this venue for Gujarat Titans. That could mean being slightly thin on lower-order batting. It’s a delicate balance.

India: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Ishan Kishan/Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin/Mohammed Shami, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Mohammed Siraj

Pakistan have little reason to change a combination that worked wonders for them against Sri Lanka. There’s just a one small concern. While Hasan Ali picked up four wickets, he did get taken for plenty. If they are looking for a change, there’s Mohammad Wasim waiting in the wings.

Pakistan: 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Ifthikhar Ahmed, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Wasim, 11 Haris Rauf

Pitch and conditions

Hot and dry on the weather front. There could be some dew later in the evening, which will also mean the team batting first will want to go hard. It’s a black soil surface, next to the one that played host to the tournament opener where New Zealand’s top order made merry. As such, it should be a belter of a surface for the organisers want to make it a spectacle in every sense.

Stats and trivia

  • Rohit Sharma has been out five times in 13 innings against left-arm pace in the powerplay since 2021. It’s all then set up for another exciting round of Rohit vs Shaheen Shah Afridi.

  • India’s bowling strike rate of 32.5 in the powerplay is the best among all teams in ODIs since 2022. In this phase, Siraj has taken most wickets for India (32).
  • The 67 innings Imam-ul-Haq took to get past 3000 runs in the previous game makes him the second-fastest behind Hashim Amla to get there in ODIs. The glaring concern, though, will be his five dismissals in seven innings this year against short-pitched bowling, including in the opener against Netherlands. This is something India’s pace attack may want to exploit first up.
  • Babar Azam has hit just 71 runs in five innings since his 150* in the Asia Cup opener against Nepal. This is his joint-longest streak of not scoring 30 or more in an ODI innings.
  • Quotes

    “I don’t focus too much on what has happened in the past and focus on what’s coming ahead. These records are made to be broken and we will try to break it.”
    Babar Azam on Pakistan’s winless run against India in ODI World Cups

    Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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