Saturday, October 14, 2023
In the grandeur of the world's largest cricket stadium packed with an enthusiastic crowd, showing unwavering support for their local heroes and vocal opposition against what's widely regarded as the finest ODI team on the planet, Babar Azam and his team find themselves on the cusp of attempting something that has eluded all prior Pakistani cricket teams, i.e. triumphing over India in a World Cup match.
The challenge at hand for Babar Azam is akin to embarking on an arduous ascent of Mount Everest during tumultuous weather conditions. Yet, last Friday, there was an air of optimism surrounding Babar Azam, the captain of Pakistan, as he and his team put the finishing touches to their preparations for this momentous occasion.
Today's match is a monumental event, a stage where history is made, and passions run high. It's an opportunity for the Green Shirts to etch their names in the annals of cricketing lore.
The only thing that could possibly surpass the magnitude of this clash is the prospect of Pakistan and India crossing paths once again at the climax of the World Cup next month.
Today, at the 132,000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium, Pakistan will look to end what is perhaps the most talked about jinx in cricket World Cup history. India have beaten Pakistan in all the previous seven World Cup games and will begin this one as hot favourites.
As Rohit Sharma’s India captain boasted on Friday, the hosts haven’t just covered all their bases but also have the momentum with them.
In the lead-up to the World Cup, India won a home series against Australia and then comfortably regained the Asia Cup, thrashing Pakistan by 228 runs in the process. In their first two games of the ongoing World Cup, the Indians comprehensively defeated Australia and Afghanistan.
“The bowlers have shown very good performances. Whether it is spinners or seamers, whenever they have a chance to put pressure on the batsmen, they have done so. All the batsmen have scored runs,” Rohit told reporters in Ahmedabad.
Another good news for India is that prolific batter Shubman Gill, who missed the first two games due to dengue, has also recovered and is available for selection.
Pakistan arrived earlier this month looking quite lost following their Asia Cup disappointment. The exit of key pacer Naseem Shah due to injury was a further blow but back-to-back wins against the Netherlands and Sri Lanka, whom they beat by posting the biggest run-chase in World Cup history, have come as a timely shot in the arm for Pakistan.
Asked what he thought about Pakistan’s abysmal World Cup track record against India, Babar just played it down.
“I don´t focus on the past,” he said. “Let’s focus on the thing to come as we know records are meant to be broken. We will try to play well and it all depends on how you play on the day, just like we did in the first two matches.”
Most experts agree that a Pakistan-India clash, especially a high-profile World Cup match, is a battle of nerves. The side that handles pressure better goes on to win it.
Babar agreed that tackling the pressure of playing against a tough opposition in its own backyard would be key. He was quick to add that he saw it as a “golden opportunity”.
“I have told (the players) it´s the best opportunity to perform. It is a big stadium that can accommodate many fans. It’s a golden opportunity for us to perform in front of these fans.”
The fact that India has emerged as the team to beat in this event could put the hosts under pressure especially in front of a massive home crowd.
However, Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan captain, doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think India would be under pressure because of home expectations. They have a lot of experienced players like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma who have played numerous high pressure games over the years. They can guide the young guns in their line-up,” Wasim told ‘The News’.
“I believe to upset India, Pakistan’s players will have to really give their best. I hope they will do it,” he added.
Pakistan will be hoping that their batting would click the way it did during the memorable run-chase against Sri Lanka in Hyderabad on Tuesday when Muhammad Rizwan and World Cup debutant Abdullah Shafiq hit impressive tons. They will also need misfiring opener Imam-ul-Haq to find some runs but the key will be skipper Babar who is yet to find his golden form in the event. The bigger cause of concern for Pakistan is their bowling attack, which has failed to impress much in the two victories. Lead pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was apparently nursing a finger injury, has just taken two wickets for 113 in two games.
But Babar is confident that Shaheen will deliver in today’s blockbuster. “He is our main bowler. Shaheen himself has a belief that he is a big match bowler,” Babar said.
Pakistan are unlikely to make any changes to the playing eleven that defeated Sri Lanka in Hyderabad where the crowd supported Babar and his men.
The atmosphere in Ahmedabad, the hometown of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, is expected to be completely different.
But Babar believes his players are ready to give their best. They will have to because today in Ahmedabad, anything less won’t suffice.