Mohali match: A game of mental robustness
Pakistan have never beaten India in the World Cup. That one statistic carries insurmountable pressure with it.
The crowd is overwhelmingly boisterous and the air is strikingly charged with emotions — it is conspicuously unnerving. I’ve played in Mohali and Pakistan should expect nothing less in their semi-final against India.
Pakistan will stand before thousands in the stadium, with over millions watching their every move on television. Cricket, in this case, transcends physical fitness, on-field performances and statistics. It becomes a game of mental robustness. Pakistan have defeated the strong teams and the weaker ones, they have performed well with the bat and the ball, and we witnessed outstanding effort in the field in their quarter-final.
So the focus before the mega semi-final should be on team strategy and how to tackle their opponent - an opponent that has continued to elude Pakistan in the World Cup: Pakistan have never beaten India. That one statistic alone carries insurmountable level of pressure with it. Facing the arch-rivals will be a test of Pakistan’s dubious ability to perform under pressure.
Pakistan faced South Africa in the 2006 Champions Trophy in Mohali. The pitch was hard and dry and it supported fast-bowlers more than the spinners. Assuming that the conditions will not be very different on Wednesday, Pakistan need to keep in mind that fast-bowlers – who were undermined by the subcontinent pitches so far – will play an integral part.
This brings focus on our available choices. Playing Umar Gul is not under debate. He takes wickets with the new ball and bamboozles the batsmen with the old one. He will be my pick of the bowlers. However, between Shoaib Akhtar and Wahab Riaz, Pakistan have a difficult choice. While Riaz lacks the experience that Akhtar possesses, he’s a rare asset who’ll come in very handy as a left-armer bowling across the line to India’s right handed batsmen. But the crowd loves to watch Akhtar. He is fierce, aggressive and has an intimidating aura to him. We will need that against formidable India.
As far as the spinners go, make no mistake Shahid Afridi will be the focal point of our bowling. He is the highest wicket-taker of the tournament and, as the captain, riding the wave of victory after defeating Australia and the West Indies. Pakistan will rely on him to take crucial Indian wickets to reach the final. Between Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, I would side with the latter who is more attacking in his approach as compared to the Rehman who is a stock bowler.
But these spinners will have to keep in mind that Indian batsmen play spinners with articulate precision.
Pakistan should tread boldly as they march into the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday. Players should keep their heads up, focus on positivity and enjoy the game. They should revel in the achievement of reaching where they have up till now. And the rest will follow through.
Published in The Express Tribune