Here is an unpopular opinion – India-Pakistan matches stopped being competitive a long time ago. Be it ODI cricket or T20s, clashes between the traditional subcontinent rivals have stopped producing close encounters even though the tension and drama surrounding it makes it look like the BEST. MATCH. EVER.
The last time and India-Pakistan match saw a close contest was all the way back in 2014 when Pakistan beat India by one wicket. Since then, the next five matches have been a one-way street. Even in T20s, just one in the last five games going back to 2102 have come even close to being exciting for just cricketing reasons.
In the recent Asia Cup in the UAE, both India-Pakistan matches were won comprehensively by the men in blue. But still, it’s India-Pakistan so it is never just another game, is it?
Virat Kohli might ask fans to take it as just a cricket match as much as he wants, but the events leading up to the biggest match of this World Cup – in Manchester on Sunday, should the weather permit – make the latest India-Pakistan encounter a particularly prickly one.
This year has not been good for political relations between the two countries; not that they have been balmy otherwise. It has been just a few months since the two nations came precariously close to war. Armed forces were mobilised, airspaces were closed, and there was genuine fear of imminent disaster.
Ultimately, good sense prevailed. There was no war and we are all still here. But the war hysteria that was whipped up at the beginning of the year continues to live through different mediums. The Indian cricket team tried to pay homage to its fallen soldiers during the bilateral series against Australia by wearing military caps. MS Dhoni brought that sentiment into the ongoing World Cup, sporting an army emblem on his glove which was quickly deemed against the rules by the ICC.
Then reports emerged that Pakistan had planned ‘special’ celebrations for the India match but the idea was apparently shot down by Prime Minister and World Cup winning captain Imran Khan. Those reports were altogether denied by the Pakistan management. But if they are true, it wouldn’t come as a surprise in these times. Last year, Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali caused an uproar when he taunted Indian border security during the flag-lowering ceremony at the international border with his trademark wicket celebration.
So when some say ‘it’s just a match’ and ‘treat it like any other game’, they are just trying their best to keep emotions in check. The 22 players out on the field don’t need to be told that well over a billion will watch the match in Manchester on Sunday; that politics, war, armies and cricketers of the two nations have become more enmeshed than ever before.
Maybe words will be said or celebrations done with a reference to what happened between the two nations earlier in the year. Emotions will be high, even if the cricket may not be of the highest quality. But hey, it’s India-Pakistan. When was it ever about runs and wickets?
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The clash that has been gathering pace for months before the 2019 ICC World Cup even started is finally upon us as arch-rivals India and Pakistan prepare to renew their rivalry in Manchester on Sunday.
With bilateral cricket relations between the two neighbours non existent, their meetings have become too few and far in between. Hence, Sunday’s World Cup clash between the two sides has assumed greater significance and a sellout crowd is expected to take Old Trafford by storm.
It is a contest which India have historically dominated with the Men in Blue emerging triumphant in all six previous World Cup encounters.
RAIN THREAT AT OLD TRAFFORD
The 2019 World Cup is turning into a damp squib with as many as four matches failing to yield a result due to rain. Th emost number of washed out games in World Cup was two, but that figure has already been beaten in the ongoing tournament in two weeks.
Both India and Pakistan have already seen one fixture apiece abandoned without a ball being bowled and they will be hoping that the same isn’t the case on Sunday. The weather forecast isn’t too promising with showers and cloudy skies expected throughout the day and the organisers should have their task cut out in trying to fit in some play.
Tickets for the match were supposedly sold out just hours after being opened to the public but that could all go down the drain should the weather fail to relent on Sunday.
MERCURIAL PAKISTAN IN DESPERATE NEED OF A WIN
While Pakistan want to break their World Cup duck against their arch-rivals, a win on Sunday is important to keep their semi-final hopes alive. The Men in Green have lived up to their ‘unpredictable’ tag in the tournament and have shown the good, the bad and the ugly in their brief campaign so far.
Their only win in the tournament so far has come against heavy favourites England where they looked like world-beaters. However, they were woeful in their campaign opener against Windies where they were bowled out for just 105 runs and were extremely sloppy in a 41-run loss to Australia in a game which was theirs for the taking.
With their clash against Sri Lanka washed out, Sarfraz Ahmed and his men now have a mountain to climb in the remainder of the campaign if they are to finish in the top four. Their abysmal net run-rate means that they don’t really have much maneuvering room left and a defeat against India could very well close the doors on their semi-final hopes.
STEADY INDIA LOOK TO GET BACK INTO RHYTHM
While Pakistan have oscillated between the stupendous and the ridiculous, India have looked like title contenders in their short campaign so far. Virat Kohli and his men were highly efficient in a six-wicket victory over South Africa before they really flexed their muscle in a 36-run win over Australia.
Their formidable showings in the two wins should put the Men in Blue in a good spot for the Pakistan clash despite their most recent outing against New Zealand being washed out.
However, they do have some concerns following an injury blow to opener Shikhar Dhawan. With the left-hander set to be sidelined for a significant spell, India will need to rejig their batting order for the Pakistan clash with KL Rahul set to move into the opener’s slot.
The burning question for India is whom to bring in for the No4 batting slot with Rahul moving up the order. Kohli has a straight choice between Vijay Shankar and Dinesh Karthik or he could take a more unorthodox route of bringing in Ravindra Jadeja as an all-rounder while promoting Dhoni to the No4 slot.
India: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali
When it rains, it pours, and the heavens have opened on both South Africa and Afghanistan so far at Cricket World Cup 2019.
The Proteas must win each of their five remaining games and hope results elsewhere go their way after three miserable defeats and one washout has left with a solitary point.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, have lost three of three and with tournament favourites England and India next up after this, failure in Cardiff is not worth thinking about.
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