India vs Pakistan, World Cup 2023: Rohit’s men start overwhelming favourites

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Rohit Sharma’s poise, Virat Kohli’s intensity and Jasprit Bumrah’s cerebral artistry make India overwhelming favourites against arch-rivals Pakistan in the World Cup match here on Saturday that has a compelling socio-political context, implications of which transcend beyond the 22-yards.

On paper, India is a far superior side, and with a batting line-up filled with alpha-male characters, it will all depend on how well left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi’s first spell pans out, as the cross-border neighbours might not be short on intent but certainly in terms of ammunition.

But this is a match where emotional quotients play a role and it has created heroes and villains in equal measure over the years.

Ask Javed Miandad and Chetan Sharma, Saleem Malik and Maninder Singh, Ajay Jadeja and Waqar Younis, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Saqlain Mushtaq, Sachin Tendulkar and Shoaib Akhtar, Virat Kohli and Wahab Riaz, Joginder Sharma and Misbah ul Haq (albeit in T20 WC), as this contest is replete with examples of agony and ecstasy, unbridled joy and heart-breaks of a lifetime, which never seem to find closure.

The Shaheen Factor

Shaheen in Urdu means ‘King of Birds’ and Rohit won’t mind clipping his wings at the earliest inside an imposing amphitheatre that can house 132,000 people.

Shubman Gill is recovering well post dengue and if he is ready to do to Shaheen what he did in the Asia Cup in Colombo with those half a dozen fours in Powerplay, then half the job of deflating Pakistanis would be done.

The master puller would like to reassert his supremacy first up which would create a platform for the likes of Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul to consolidate during middle-overs where Pakistan could be a bit short-changed due to lack of quality spinners.

Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan has gone for 100 runs in 16 overs in the two games and he along with new ball bowler Hasan Ali could be the easy target for Indians.

Not to forget the second spinner, which has been Pakistan’s weak-link so far.

Yes, there is a forecast of inclement weather but no one wants anything to come in the way of a full game of cricket.

Kuldeep vs Babar, India’s real match-up

Mohammed Rizwan was phenomenal against Sri Lanka and Abdullah Shafique showed his class. There is Saud Shakeel, who can be an ‘x-factor’ on a given day. But Pakistan’s batting depends on its skipper Babar Azam.

Babar’s battle with Kuldeep Yadav could even add a fascinating sub-text to the match.

The left-arm wrist-spinner’s leg-break that landed Babar in a mess in Manchester in 2019, could be watched on loop as many times as one can.

In between, Kuldeep had lost that flight, loop, dip and deception but he has regained those assets and the spinner can spell doom for Babar and his team.

The Asia Cup match in Colombo is a case in point. But to nullify Kuldeep, Pakistan need to go past the first spell of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj.

Rizwan and Shafique would know that negating Bumrah and Siraj could be infinitely more challenging than spanking Matheesha Pathirana.

The only question that India seek answer now is whether to play R Ashwin or Shardul Thakur, with both being contestants for the No. 8 slot.

If the pitch is a batting paradise, then Shardul is a better choice but if there is a bit of grip available, Ashwin is the more viable option with longer boundaries on each side.

Bigger Picture

Mahendra Singh Dhoni never liked words like “war”, “revenge” being loosely used in connection with the Indo-Pak ties while Rohit would iterate and reiterate to anyone and everyone who wants to listen that he believes in “shutting the outside noise.” But being a social animal, it is very difficult to shrug off the history of Indo-Pak clashes and the increased bitterness over the years, which makes crazy fans think of this as “not just another game” but “The Game.” There are still those people, that too a sizeable number , who feel that “Don’t need to win the World Cup but don’t lose to Pakistan”.

Actually, the seven India versus Pakistan clashes in the World Cups have all been anti-climactic where India sealed the game much before it was officially over.

But these matches have their own charm and archived nuggets of incidents, which over time became urban legends.

Miandad’s funny impersonation of Kiran More’s celebration at Sydney in 1992 or Venkatesh Prasad’s angry send off of Aamir Sohail or the ugly bust-up between Harbhajan Singh and Mohammed Yousuf at Centurion, they are all part of the Indo-Pak cricketing folklore now.

In the end, it is just another match and nothing will change even if India doesn’t win. It would neither be a tragedy nor the end of the road for the two protagonists as six matches would be there to make an atonement.

But if India happens to win like the previous seven occasions, it gives everyone a reason to smile, some hope and belief.

Teams:

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya (vc), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav.

Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Wasim.

Match starts: 2 pm.



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