Counting down the hours to a cricket epic
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India versus Pakistan. The countdown to another cracker of a match has begun after the former eliminated Australia on Thursday night and the latter did likewise to the West Indies on Wednesday.
It’s the Old Firm of the cricketing world. Neighbours, rivals, political tensions and the rest. The “El Classico” of the willow universe (or should that be “El Cricketo”?)
Another stirring chapter should be written this coming Wednesday night at the PCA Stadium in Mohali in the second semi-final of the 2011 ICC World Cup.
The Pakistanis are by turns unpredictable, unorthodox and probably a lot of other words beginning with the letter u. The Indians are by turns majestic, magical and probably a lot of other words beginning with the letter m.
But India has the statistical advantage – an advantage of 100 per cent in fact. The Indians have never lost to Pakistan at the World Cup, although they only became acquainted with them as late as 1992 when Australia and New Zealand hosted the tournament.
It was India’s day that night at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and it’s been the same ever since, through a high-intensity quarter-final in Bangalore four years later to a similar boiling and bubbling second-round clash at Old Trafford in 1999.
Most recently, India completed a six-wicket win at Centurion Park, Pretoria in the group stage of the 2003 tournament.
Strangely, though, the two nations have never met in Pakistan in a World Cup. Imagine if the ICC had permitted Pakistan to join India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as co-hosts as originally planned, it might be in Lahore on Wednesday night instead of Chandigarh.
The major newspapers of each country have already started to talk up the match from the moment it was confirmed by the quarter-final results.
The Times Of India had “Ponting Predicts India Will Beat Pakistan” on March 25, a generous headline that still gives the Australian skipper a role in the Cup even while his team’s been knocked out. Apparently, Punter also told local reporters that Mahendra Dhoni’s side were the most likely to take home the title itself.
“Going forward they will be pretty hard to beat,” Ponting said.
“They will beat Pakistan in a semi-final and go on to win the World Cup now.”
Not if Shahid Afridi’s men have anything to do with it they won’t.
It’s in the batting, you see, according to Ponting.
Dhoni, would no doubt have accepted the accolade, saying on March 24 that his team was ready to meet Pakistan.
“India versus Pakistan in semi-finals – it doesn’t get better,” the Indian captain added.
Well, yes it can – in the final, presumably, but that’s probably beside the point right now.
“There will be more pressure on the Indian side and it will be from the outside [of the team],” said Dhoni.
“It is a tough job but Indian cricketers have been managing this quite well.”
The view from over the United Nations-established dividing Line Of Control (and associated electrified concertina-wire fence) in Pakistan is arguably less intently focussed and more buoyant already.
Former Pakistan skipper Ramiz Raja expects the semi-final to “charge up the players”, according to The Nation on March 25.
“I know from experience that playing in India always brings out something special in our cricketers,” he added.
“I don’t think we have anything to fear.”
As for the chances of Afridi’s fellas, Raja was convinced it was all down to a new, positive atmosphere in the dressing-room, team discipline and squad depth. He added that he’d never seen a more unified Pakistan XI than the 2011 version.
Afridi himself, however – simply known as “Boom Boom” in The Nation’s headline – hosed down World Cup final talk on the same day. He said he’d anticipated at least a semi-final finish for the team.
“I’m very happy, because before this competition I told my friend and the nation that with this team I wanted to play in the semi-finals,” Afridi added.
Perhaps he should have said that this is also the same bunch of blokes he’d like to take to the final?
“There will now be more expectations to go on, but I’m just thinking game by game.”
At Pakistan’s other major paper, Dawn, reporters on March 24 were asking whether Boomie could pull off another Imran Khan-like effort to lead the nation to ultimate World Cup victory.
“The team had lost three of their most talented players – Salman Butt and pace duo Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – to corruption bans and two weeks before the tournament did not even know who their captain would be,” went the Dawn piece.
“Now they are just two matches away from walking off with the top prize,” it added.
“In just seven matches, Afridi has instilled a can-do attitude into his men while leading from the front.”
So, in short, if you’re Indian, it’s going to be India to win. If you’re a Pakistani, you’ll be taking the side of Pakistan, naturally. For the neutral, it’s a case of just sit back and watch the sparks fly. Myself? There remains a nagging doubt in the back of my head about India going all the way to the final, so it’s Pakistan for me.
Provided all three of their spinners have a good day. And Tendulkar doesn’t.
PREVIOUS INDIA-PAKISTAN WORLD CUP FIXTURES
India by 43 runs in Sydney, March 4, 1992 (preliminary round)
India by 39 runs in Bangalore, March 9, 1996 (quarter-final)
India by 47 runs in Manchester, June 8, 1999 (second round)
India by six wickets in Pretoria, March 1, 2003 (group stage)
Watch Glenn Mitchell's wrap of the second Test, where Australia were victorious early on the final day, winning by 218 runs and taking a 2-0 series lead into the third Test in Perth.
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