MANCHESTER: In the summer of 2017, Pakistan pulled off what was nothing less than Houdini’s act to win the Champions Trophy with a 180-run hammering of old foes India at The Oval.
In the backdrop of beating war drums, the two teams meet again two years later this time on an even bigger stage – the ICC World Cup.
Even though Indian captain Virat Kohli and Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur tried to play down the hype, frenzied fans from both sides were baying for blood in this latest episode of world cricket’s greatest rivalry.
Despite all the hype, it’s gloomy weather which continues to loom large and could play a key role in the final outcome of the big match here at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The contest, despite its mass appeal – almost 1.5 billion are expected to watch it – could be a one-sided affair. The two teams have never played a close match in the World Cup. The Indians have a 6-0 win record against their top rivals in the event.
India will begin the game as overwhelming favourites but they would be well aware of the fact that they face, more or less, the same Pakistan team that floored them at The Oval two years ago.
Fakhar Zaman, the hero of the memorable win, is still at the top of the order for Pakistan. So is Mohammad Amir, who famously dismissed Indian batting aces Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Amir comes into Sunday’s game hot on the heels of a five-wicket haul against Australia that propelled him to the top of the list of World Cup wicket-takers.
It’s Pakistan’s moment of truth. Coming into the World Cup, they knew Sunday’s game against India would be their biggest match of the tournament. They would have wanted to be better-placed in the event before taking on the Indians.
Pakistan’s World Cup campaign is placed on thin ice going into the crucial game after they failed to capitalise on a series of opportunities in their previous World Cup game against Australia in Taunton. The 41-run defeat in that match together with a timid loss against West Indies and a wash out against Sri Lanka have left Pakistan in a tricky situation. They are languishing at eighth spot and a defeat against India would leave them in a must-win situation in their remaining four games.
But Pakistan won’t be thinking about it.
Their sights would be focused on how to counter India, a team that has improved in all three departments of the game since the 2017 Champions Trophy.
On a brown and grassless wicket at Old Trafford, only rainy weather could stop a potent Indian batting line-up from amassing another 300-plus total. Unless the likes of Mohammad Amir produce a few magical spells.
India’s top-order, despite missing big-hitting opener Shikhar Dhawan, remains a threat for Pakistan. Opener Sharma has started the tournament with scores of 122* and 57 while Kohli remains in sublime touch.
The Indians are likely to open with KL Rahul in the absence of the injured Dhawan. Vijay Shankar is expected to be included in the line-up to fill up the vacant middle-order spot.
India’s bowling, too, would be a challenge with pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar all pumped up. Spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav are also looking good. Kedhar Jadhav, who rattled Pakistan with career-best figures of 9-0-23-3 in the Asia Cup last September, could also be a threat.
Pakistan, however, would be looking to take the field, thinking about their own positives. Their top-three average over 50, though a concern for them could be that Babar Azam, their best batsman, doesn’t have a good record against India. He is yet to cross 50 in four outings against India. Babar’s average drops from 50.96 to 27.50 against the Indians.
Despite the fact that Shoaib Malik is completely off colour, Pakistan are expected to persist with him hoping that his experience would help them in the high-pressure match. They could axe the misfiring Mohammad Asif and instead opt for Imad Wasim. But the final line-up would depend on weather conditions Sunday morning.
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain, wk), Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir
India: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (captain), Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedhar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah.