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When is an India-Pakistan match not an India-Pakistan match? When an Indian bowling attack looks far superior, almost indomitable, in comparison to Pakistan’s.
When the Pakistani captain isn’t a larger than life figure who gets transformed into public enemy No.1 across India at least for a day. When you can’t think of even a single individual face-off to look forward to in the contest.
And also when every Pakistani you meet seems to have given up on their team. Even telling them not to write off their own team, or that Pakistan can spring a surprise, or their players can play out of their skins on the big occasion, tends to fall on deaf ears.
From the anonymous immigration officer to the genial cab driver, who insists on reading more Indian newspapers than Pakistani. If anything what they’re hoping for is that their team doesn’t get obliterated, even if they are to lose. Imagine that. A potential loss to India, being spoken of so nonchalantly.
It’s strange considering that the buzz seemed very much along expected lines before the last India-Pakistan big match, back in March 2015 at the Adelaide Oval. It was a different Pakistan team then. You still had the likes of Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi in the mix. Misbah-ul-Haq was the captain and there was the enigmatic Umar Akmal still around. It still seemed like a match-up, on paper and otherwise.
Only two players from that Pakistani XI are still around, Ahmed Shezhad the opener is making a return to the side while Wahab Riaz doesn’t quite seem the force he was back then. In contrast at least eight of the Indians from that convincing win are likely to take the field at Edgbaston on Sunday.
Pakistan have a new captain at the helm these days, and for all the ingenuity and the energy he brings to the camp, Sarfraz Ahmed is yet to establish himself as a genuine leader – the kind Pakistan look upto. You just have to look at the names that have preceded him over the last few decades. From the aristocratic Imran Khan to the superstar likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to the inscrutable Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Sarfraz is filling into some big shoes, and it doesn’t help that he has a young team in a state of transformation under him.
It doesn’t mean that the Indians can take the game lightly. In an age where you almost never come across an opponent you aren’t very familiar with as a cricketer, Kohli & Co will be up against a relatively unknown force. One that despite not possessing any firepower of note, could possibly have a couple of surprises up their sleeve. Kohli himself seemed to think so even if he did stick to the usual diatribe about his team focusing more on themselves, which you hear from most captains these days.
“We don’t play them often. So they’ve always been a team that can surprise any team on the day that they play well,” he said.
“You know of their abilities. But you’re not too aware of how they react in different situations. All you can do in that situation is focus on your skill, which anyways you should do as a team. As individuals, some people like to watch videos and go through bowlers and batsmen and all that. Some people don’t,” he said.
Azhar Ali is a familiar name, but it’s only of late that he’s started establishing himself in the limited-overs setup, having survived a disastrous captaincy reign. But somehow he’s always remained out of the loop whenever India and Pakistan have met in the last few years. Shoaib Malik of course has an Indian connect that stretches well beyond the cricket field, and he also averages 49.51 with the bat against India. He’s also been a scourge for India during one of their previous Champions Trophy encounters. Mohammad Hafeez is another veteran who seems to have been around forever despite having never really stepped up his game against India. Mohammad Amir, meanwhile, will generate interest like he does every time he marks his run on English soil.
The rest though remain fresh faces or those that the Indian public anyway hasn’t really heard much about — especially with the Pakistan Super League not being aired there. If it had been, the likes of Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali would have made an impression. The 18-year-old leg-spinner and the nippy swing bowler — who won lavish praise from both Akram and Younis — had a significant impact in the PSL and even won Test spots as a result during Pakistan’s recent Caribbean tour.
India’s practice session at the Colts ground did generate a lot of interest on the periphery of the stadium, even if it meant getting a glimpse of their superstars through the gaps and crevices around the stadium gates. Some weren’t deterred though from being brazen about expressing their delight at getting to spot their favourite players, a couple of girls in particular who were rather vociferous in letting Yuvraj Singh know how much they loved him. In contrast, the Pakistani practice session hardly attracted any attention. For the record, Indians and Pakistanis make up nearly 20 per cent of Birmingham’s population with 13 per cent from across the border. But still no interest and you couldn’t blame them. And probably you had to believe Kohli, considering the anonymity of the opposition, even if it did sound a tad clichéd when he said, “If a cricket ball has been bowled, you should be good enough to handle it, whether it’s bowled by someone you play regularly or you don’t. You would rather take that up as a bigger challenge that you’ll have to come up with the kind of bowling that you don’t play often.”
Live on Star Sports 1: 1500 hrs