India’s big-ticket ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match against Pakistan kicks off 3 PM Sunday at the Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester. And with it reignites a cricketing rivalry that transcends the 22 yards and goes back decades.
Fans have called it a red-letter day, which makes sense because the match was on the verge of being cancelled, on account of BCCI’s stance to boycott any match against Pakistan, in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack in February.
But now a different challenge stands in the way of the highly anticipated match.
Raining on the ICC parade
As inclement weather continues to pursue English counties, India and Pakistan fans are praying for clear skies on June 16 and are rightfully anxious about the fate of the upcoming match.
On Thursday, India’s bout against table-toppers New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, was abandoned due to rain; the training session on Tuesday was also cancelled. Australia vs Sri Lanka and South Africa vs Afghanistan matches on Saturday also ended abruptly due to a washout.
Furthermore, cancellation of the India vs Pakistan match can be a Rs 137.5 crore blow, impacting broadcaster Star Sports and big advertisers, such as Coca-Cola, Uber, OnePlus, and MRF Tyres, according to news reports. News18 reported that fans were ready to shell out as much as Rs 4 lakh for the tickets, which sold out within 48 hours of release, with Indian fans purchasing two-thirds of them.
But Indian fans are hopeful for a 7-0 scoreline against Pakistan, with Virat Kohli and company in a commanding form. Along with rains, there have been concerns over inadequate practice as well—India last played on Sunday—but Kohli expressed confidence over the team’s preparedness.
“We’ve been playing some good cricket, we’re not too worried about where we stand. Having two wins does give you confidence. A couple of practice sessions, and we should be fine. It’s only about getting game time, and that should happen on Sunday,” the Indian captain told reporters on the eve of the big match.
He added that it was a privilege to be playing an India-Pakistan match, one of the biggest draws in the cricketing world.
History has it that Pakistan never beat India once in the six times they’ve faced each other on the World Cup stage; they did come close to doing it during the Bengaluru quarterfinal in 1996 and the Mohali semifinal in 2011.
But it was in 2003, when Pakistan was certain it would break the spell and climb to victory on the flanks of Saeed Anwar’s century. Along came Sachin Tendulkar, scoring 98 off 75 balls, getting the better of even Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar.
Together with Ajay Jadeja’s assault against former Pakistani pacer Waqar Younis in the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal and Salim Malik’s 72 off 35 balls in a tough run-chase at Eden Gardens in 1987, these are just some of the legends that form the rich tapestry of India-Pakistan’s cricketing history.
But its essence has often transcended beyond cricket, with the sport bridging cultural and political differences sometimes, while being politicised to widen that gulf at other instances.
The 1999 match in Manchester, for example, coincided with the Kargil War that acted as the perfect backdrop with tensions running high when the two teams met each other at the Old Trafford. This year, the jingoism has been loud on both sides, compelling coaches and veteran players to step in to urge fans for peace, calm, and restraint.
Aces up India’s sleeve
Acknowledging that the pressure is intimidating for first-timers in the squad, Kohli has assured that the Men in Blue would maintain that record.
He himself has always enjoyed a fabulous track record against Pakistan, having scored a hundred in the 2015 game at Adelaide.
Sachin Tendulkar has reportedly instructed the team to be more aggressive than they were in the 2017 Champions Trophy, which marked the first time Pakistan defeated India on the big stage by a considerable margin.
The Old Trafford wicket looks good for batting, even though conditions will aid both seam and swing, PTI reports. Kohli’s might and K L Rahul’s technique will most likely be tested by Pakistan’s premier fast bowler, Mohammed Amir and his teammate Wahab Riaz.
Rishabh Pant has replaced Shikhar Dhawan, according to Hindustan Times, as the latter suffered an injury during the match with Australia.
The bowling line-up may undergo changes as the seaming conditions and Pakistan’s comfort against spinners might prompt Kohli to dispense of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in favour of Mohammed Shami, who would make the best of these conditions. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will join them in the attack against Pakistan’s batting order.
What’s sustaining Pakistan’s hope?
Meanwhile, the Pakistani side looks like it could do with a win or two, but it’s unlikely to come from a clash with India. While India is at the third spot after the washout in Nottingham, Pakistan is at the eighth after their 41-run defeat to Australia on Wednesday.
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men need to be at their best if they are to beat their arch-rivals on Sunday, and critics say Babar Azam is their best bet. Indian bowlers should also look out for Fakhar Zaman, who became the first batsman for Pakistan to score a double century in a One-Day International match last June.
For Pakistan, it will be a test of temperament for young pacers Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi, who have bowled precious little to Kohli, often touted as the world’s best batsman.
Stressing that Pakistan must emulate their takeaways from the 2017 win and enter the match with a positive mindset, Younis said, “I hope they have got their best game in the locker for India, who showed against Australia that they are a very fine side.”
India: Virat Kohli (captain), K L Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Vijay Shankar, M S Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, and Rishabh Pant.
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Shahdab Khan, Mohammed Hafeez, Mohammed Hasnain, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Mohammed Aamir, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, and Asif Ali.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.