Right, it’s almost here. It’s only a matter of hours. The Greatest Match Ever (TGME), The Mother of All Games! And, if you believed what you saw on desi TV, the war that will prevent any future wars!
There have been several well thought out previews of this game and there is almost no way another preview can be written that is drastically different. It is quite obvious that Pakistan’s strength is in the varied and exceptionally skilled practitioners in its bowling attack and India will try to impose its superiority in batting strength and depth over its opposition. You know, one of those “immovable object faces the irresistible force” kinds of situation.
However, this match, as big as it is, will perhaps be won (and lost) on things lot less grand than the Pakistani bowling prowess or the Indian batting might. Subash Jayaraman and Masuud Qazi discuss the various aspects of this match up and identify who has the edge.
1. India’s bowling vs. Pakistan’s Middle order
Subash: As an Indian fan, the sight of Younis Khan makes me nervous. He is one person in that Pakistani middle order who has the nous and experience to hold an innings together and provide the much required calmness to let their lower middle order paint the town red. India’s bowling with the exception of Zaheer Khan has been, at best, a restrictive unit. The spinners, especially Harbhajan Singh will have to make contribution towards wicket taking, especially if Pakistan wins the toss, and as one would expect of a team in a big game, bat first. That’s going to be tough since none of the top 7 batsmen of Pakistan are left handed.
Masuud: As much as Zaheer is talked about (deservedly) in orthodox Indian bowling analysis, Pakistan better be wary of the underrated Ashwin who has done well so far. He’s your workman-like spinner who knows his limits and is your go-to option for line and length ingredient. They would need to milk him properly along with Harbhajan, Yuvraj and the other middle over phase options Dhoni uses, the common belief being any ODI game, more so this one, resting heavily on the safety and scoring rate in those patches. The trio of Shafiq, Younis and Misbah define the game with at least one of them anchoring the innings and the likes of U Akmal, Afridi and Razzaq bludgeoning later on.
2. Experience in handling pressure
Subash: India, already having played The Greatest Match Ever before this recent edition of The Greatest Match Ever in the quarterfinals and sent home the three time defending champions, one would think, would be better equipped to handle the pressure of such a big occasion. The batting order is decked with match winners who can adapt to situations pretty quickly and do the hard yards, if necessary.
Masuud: As a Pakistani I know this is where we have conceded to India in the daddy of all contests, World Cup games. The pressure has got to even some of the greats of yesteryears resulting in below par performances. However, this could work entirely to the benefit of this bunch. Coming on back of incessant on and off-field controversies and doing a rebirth, they have shown they have a certain amount of mental fortitude. Don’t write them off just yet because of the electric atmosphere or the Indian crowd or the stakes!
Subash: As much fun that has been had at the expense of the “geriatric” fielding of this Indian side – mostly due to Munaf Patel (as pointed out on twitter, a proud graduate from the Danish Kaneria School of fielding) and Ashish Nehra, this Indian side showed during that Quarterfinal match what it is capable of. It is not as if Pakistan has 11 Jonty Rhodes either. In this aspect, I think it is pretty much even-stevens.
Masuud: The focus of Pakistan’s fielding performance begins and ends with Kamran Akmal’s gloves. However, they can be as shocking as the outfielding show against SL and NZ, and be near-clinical like when they were grinding the Aussies. Except for Shoaib (whose inclusion still remains a puzzle), Ajmal and Razzaq, the rest of them are pretty swift and reasonable across the turf, going by the Pakistani “standards” of fielding.
Subash: This is one area India is streets ahead of Pakistan. Sure, Afridi has somehow (black magic mostly, I think) brought together a group of sometimes emotionally fragile stars that have had a miserable 2010 stemming from off- as well as on-the-field incidents and has them primed for the World cup trophy. But when the pressure is squarely on, there is no other captain right now in world cricket that exudes calm the way Dhoni does. He has tremendous self-belief and conviction to follow through with his plans. As a team mate, there is no greater source of strength and inspiration than to see your captain stay absolutely cool, no matter the situation.
Masuud: Dhoni maybe one of the best leaders around for reasons Subash mentioned but he’s been criticized at times on points such as field placings and batting order shuffles, especially in the initial games of the tournament. Not that Afridi betters him here but there’s a method in his madness which has been visible in crucial patches against SL, Canada and Aus. That method is a product of his performance in the field and the conservative yet assuring tactics of Waqar Younis, the coach. Afridi’s maturity as a captain is a story which is seldom narrated. His inflammable attitude, ability to sync his imploding teammates and zingy aura is a potentially menacing mix for any opposition. Lastly, he may flutter under pressure but he will not go down without a fight, you can be sure of that.
5. Key Players
Subash: As mentioned earlier, Younis Khan is a definite threat to India. However, Saeed Ajmal and not Shahid Afridi, will be the spinner that could pose problems to the Indian batsmen, with doosra which hardly anyone seems to pick properly. From India’s point of view, in the batting department, it will be Virat Kohli. He showed a mature head in the QF to stitch together a solid 50-run partnership with Gambhir after 2 wickets had fallen and consolidated India’s position during the run chase. Indian bowling wise, it has got to be R. Ashwin, with his ability to bowl in the power plays and the fact that none of the Pakistani batsmen have faced him in an international match.
Masuud: If Gul has one of his deadly accurate days, Afridi finds his guile in that expected fast-paced track and if Shoaib plays, you can place your odds on even India’s herculean batting line up stuttering. One of Hafeez and the Akmals may just have their swaggering days. On the Indian side, yes the batting is what they will ride on and I have all the fears in the world from them, the onus is on Zaheer to spearhead the bowling once again and others to do their part for him.
Subash: Pakistan is yet to beat India in a world cup tournament. It is being played in India. India has a serene leader. India has come through a very tough quarterfinal while Pakistan’s middle order hasn’t had a hit in the middle in a long while now. So, I am giving a slight edge to India.
Masuud: All said by Subash but let’s have some numbers. 17 Pakistan wins in 26 ODI contests between the two in India. Two wins out of the two encounters at Mohali. Take your pick.
Subash: India by 5 wickets, or 50 runs. Well of course, if India do not win, I wouldn’t be too sad at all. I will just shift my focus to the fortunes of Chennai Super Kings in IPL-4. We wouldn’t have to deal with the Pakistani players there!
Masuud: Pakistan by 4 wickets or 20+ runs, on the back of a great performance from one of the big guns (Younis, Afridi, Razzaq, Gul or Akhtar). Though the opposite result would still make me proud of the boys going this far and in this manner, the thought of patrolling through the summer in Manchester with India coming for the big English tour doesn’t bode well.