Written by Harsha Bhogle | | February 12, 2015 11:00 am
There is a tournament to be won. And there is a cricket match to be won. The first must be the destination, the second the milestone you drive by. When India play Pakistan in a World Cup match, that distinction tends to get blurred, the milestone can seem the destination. It is a dangerous thought but inevitable given the frenzy that the tradition and the marketing of it generates.
Fear and confidence are at play here. The emotions of countries are placed in the custody of twenty two people. Some shoulders are broad, some hearts are big but equally, some cannot take the burden, some are filled with fear. Some will stride out to face competition, some will find their feet heavy; some will seek opportunity, some will be shifty, wondering when defeat will clobber them. There will be fear on both sides, the side that overcomes better, even creates the illusion of overcoming better, will be standing at the end.
Fear makes even the mighty look ordinary.
In my early years of watching cricket, I always thought fear resided in India. I didn’t know if it had an address in the Indian dressing room but I knew it did where the supporters lived. I discovered later, as communication improved and friends were made, that fear resided everywhere. In recent times, I get the impression that its new address is in Pakistan. I suspect victory is craved for more over there, it is just my instinct, and that is why I think the greater pressure in this match will be on Pakistan. How they handle it could well determine which way the game goes.
One team will take the field asking itself “What if we lose?” That is the team more likely to lose it.
Within the context of the tournament itself, this is a match between two teams in strife. One team hasn’t won anything of significance in Australia in almost three months, the other is losing players for a bewildering array of reasons. Neither is favourite to win the World Cup but a loss here could derail the journey. Conversely, a win could provide the impetus either side desperately needs. Beyond the emotion of the contest, that is of more crucial.
A contest as significant as this, or indeed any contest, is decided by how you play your stronger suit and conceal the weaker one. India’s batting is the strongest of the four components in this match. But which is the weakest? Is it Pakistan’s depleted bowling? Or is it India’s fragile new ball offering? For offering is what it often looks like!
Pakistan will need its peculiar mix of batsmen to fire because the bowling looks very fragile. Shahid Afridi has 393 wickets but next best are Wahab Riaz with 61 and Mohammad Irfan with 57. Only single digit tallies follow thereafter. There is no Umar Gul, no Junaid Khan and, critically, no Saeed Ajmal. These were strong bowlers with great skills, capable of turning matches around, of bowling under pressure. Pakistan can run the risk of looking towards who they don’t have rather than at who’s sitting around and available. Where Pakistani bowlers in the past made average totals look competitive, this one will need the cushion of runs.
In young Sarfraz Ahmed, they have a fine cricketer but two other players of great skill, Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal have shown fragile temperament. It might still come down to the three veterans Younis Khan, Misbah ul Huq and Shahid Afridi, whose performance could well determine how Pakistan go in this game.
India don’t have to worry about who they don’t have rather about playing with who they actually do. Umesh Yadav and Mohd Shami have it in them to be game-changers but their inconsistency is bewildering. A captain cannot go into a match concerned about where his bowlers will bowl. But in Jadeja and Ashwin, and in terms of promise in Mohit Sharma, they have strong triers. But the bowling is the support cast, clearly so. It is the batting that must win it for India.
While Shikhar Dhawan’s form is a concern, Pakistan will fear Rohit Sharma because he is developing a habit of scoring match-changing hundreds once he is set. The start in a crunch game is crucial because it settles nerves, it allows the dressing room to breathe. With Kohli, Rahane, Raina and Dhoni to follow, a strong start will put fear back into the opposition.
Even with the woeful form they have displayed recently, India will begin favourites. They need to be comfortable with that. I suspect there is greater unease in the Pakistan camp. They will need to overcome that.
Once upon a time a chemical engineer and management graduate, now cricket and motivational speaking my calling...read more