Even against a Shikhar-less India, Pakistan have a mountain to climb.

 

It’s that time again. India and Pakistan are facing off in what promises to be yet another enthralling World Cup clash. From the usual ‘mauka’ advertisements to the not so usual plans for “special” celebrations after dismissing Indian batsmen, the build-up has been, as always, heated. And here we are waiting for the showdown on Sunday.

Historically, World Cup matches between these two sides have provided ample fodder for folklore—be it the 2007 World Twenty 20 final or the 2003 World Cup clash. This time, however, the anticipation seems ever so higher. After all, both teams have not played each other outside of ICC tournaments since January 2013. Not to mention the obvious tensions off the field between the two countries. In pure cricketing terms, the stakes for Pakistan are much higher—anything less than a win will bring them closer to the danger of being knocked out of the tournament. But when it comes to these two teams, it’s never just about cricket.

Skippers from both sides have always claimed the game is like any other.

“We keep saying again and again. If you ask the players, it’s very different from how the fans feel. Yes we feel the anticipation and excitement when you enter the stadium. It’s just another game you need to win as a team. Yes it brings pressure because the atmosphere in the stadium is very different. But as soon as you enter, it’s a game of cricket for all of us. We keep saying this again and again, but that’s the truth,” India’s captain Virat Kohli had said of the India-Pakistan rivalry before the World Cup. His Pakistani counterpart echoed similar sentiments.

At the back of their minds, however, they know the stakes involved. Such statements, usually, are just attempts to calm their players’ jangled nerves before what, more often than not, boils down to a battle of nerves.

Going by current form and success over the last few years, India clearly seem to have the upper hand.

They invariably go on to either win or flourish in a tournament that they start off well. One need not look far beyond the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 World Cup campaigns—or even the ultimately unsuccessful 2015 one–for evidence of this. Not to forget the unbeatable run against Pakistan in World Cup matches.

On paper, too, India are clearly the better side—they have the No.1 ODI bowler in Jasprit Bumrah and the world’s best batsman Virat Kohli at their disposal.

Pakistan, though, are no pushovers. Barring the hiccup against West Indies, they have put in creditable performances in this World Cup. Their bowling attack, though not firing on all cylinders, has the fiery Mohammad Amir–who at long last seems to have returned to his form of the halcyon days before you-know-what happened.

It’s just the matter of their fielding that should worry them.

The game against Australia is a particularly egregious case in point. The Taunton turf pouched more skiers than the flailing Pakistani hands as the Aussies—Aaron Finch in particular—piled on the misery.

They can expect to be punished as heavily, if not more, if they go down the same road against a heavy-duty Indian batting line-up.

Probably for the first time, the experts may not call Sunday’s clash as a contest between Indian batters versus the Pakistani bowlers. The current pack has enough fire power to bring the opposition to its knees. Bumrah is at the highest point in his career. He nearly chokes the opposition at the start of the innings with his accurate lengths after which Chahal and Kuldeep complete the unfinished business.

Bumrah may not have the best figures to show off in the tournament as yet but it was his spell against David Warner that invited criticism for the slow run rate after which Australia failed to cross India’s total.

The only missing piece in India’s jigsaw is the familiar hole at number four that has opened up again after Shikhar Dhawan’s injury because KL Rahul is now expected to open the innings with Rohit Sharma.

It’s yet to be seen whether Vijay Shankar or Dinesh Karthik gets the nod to play. How effectively they step into the breach may well dictate the course of the match.

Conditions

There are no signs of early morning showers and overcast conditions. But it is the afternoon that threatens the match with heavy rain. Both the teams would like to field first after winning the toss.

 

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