Unfortunately, a preview has a short shelf life, with all the predictions usually falling flat on the day the actual event unfolds. Yet, there’s one preview that is totally worth writing: an India-Pakistan match preview! After all, the intermittent rivalry is resuming after over a year, other than the damp squib witnessed during the Champions Trophy in Birmingham last June.
This is a sporting rivalry that goes beyond the playing arena: the two warring nations, home to billions definitely have a lot at stake as they take the field for the Asia Cup encounter in Mirpur. In the backdrop of the new International Cricket Council reforms, India has emerged as an even stronger financial power than before; Pakistan, with its vehement opposition to the plan, has to now deliver on the field and prove that they are no pushovers.
Another run-fest is expected at a venue where India chased down with great comfort, the 330-run target that Pakistan set them in the last edition of the tournament held in 2012. Virat Kohli scored a monumental 183, which was a master class in chasing a steep target. In the last two years, he has repeated the dose for many an opposition. His unflustered approach, coupled with dazzling strokes, was on display on February 26 too, as the men in blue doused Bangladeshi hopes.
A day earlier, Umar Akmal, who Pakistanis believe to be as gifted as Kohli, matched the Delhi daredevil stroke for stroke, but while Kohli converts his fifties into centuries, Akmal was done in well before the match was over. Pakistan ended 12 runs short of the Sri Lankan total and Akmal’s fan club was exasperated. However, his century against Afghanistan might have helped calm down his critics. While it can be argued that various handlers of the stroke-player have not dealt with him in the best possible way, the onus of finishing off matches is very much on him, and if he has to come even close to the Kohli league, he has to win and not be content with merely setting up matches.
The mental strength, conviction and hunger of the men in green would be severely tested again on March 2, as in recent years, India has emerged as a more confident team in these nerve-wracking ties. Pakistan’s world class bowling attack will have to be at its very best to stem the flow of runs. Umar Gul, still easing his way back to top-flight cricket, will have to lead the attack with full intensity. Junaid Khan has a psychological edge over Kohli after having dismissed him on all three occasions in the bilateral ODI series last year.
The Indian bowlers, on the other hand, would seek to capitalise on the frailty of Pakistan batsmen and it remains to be seen how the likes of Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood and Ahmad Shehzad fare in their first ODI against the greatest rivals.
But all permutations are set to fall by the wayside come the start of the match. An India-Pakistan encounter is often won more in the mind than on the field, with the skills, ability and technical play often being superseded by those willing to put their mind over matter. We all wait with bated breath since nothing else would matter this Sunday!
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2014.