It's war minus the shooting!

Test Of Nerves

Wait And Watch: Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and Mohd Aamer at a training session on Friday. AFP

The electric tension that is such a feature of India-Pakistan cricket matches was very much in evidence at SuperSport Park on Friday as the teams practised separately for their Saturday showdown. Pakistan arrived in the morning, brushed up their skills, tried to get the tightness out of the bodies and retired to their hotel long before the Indians landed up, and announced their readiness for battle.

After years of great tension – more in the stands than out in the middle, given that players from the two teams get along swimmingly with each other – the edge to Indo-Pak cricket dissipated to a great extent towards the middle of this decade as the teams played full home and away series for four years on the trot from 2004.

 Relationships between India and Pakistan at a political and diplomatic level might have taken a turn for the worse following the spine-chilling terror strikes in Mumbai last November, and while the needle might have been revived from the fans’ perspective, little has changed so far as player relationships are concerned.

Just the other day, Shahid Afridi was mischievously asked if he though he was a better cricketer than Yuvraj Singh. “No way, Yuvi is miles ahead!” he replied, a twinkle in his eye at having brilliantly negotiated a bouncer, but sincerity obvious in his tenor.

That was before the Indian vice-captain sustained a fracture which has ruled him out of cricket for six weeks. “Yuvraj's injury is a big blow for India,” Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam agreed, but with no effort at scoring a psychological point. “I know how important he is to the Indian team because I was the coach of his state team Punjab for a long time. He is an extremely gifted player; someone like him getting injured is not good at all.”

Pleasantries and friendships will temporarily be put on the backburner when play begins on Saturday. Pakistan’s lone win in seven attempts against India in ICC events came in the 2004 Champions Trophy in Birmingham; India have more recent and epochal wins to boast of, but both teams will remember their last skirmish at SuperSport Park, at the 2003 World Cup with differing emotions.

With Sachin Tendulkar in magical touch on his way to a sensational 98 made in great physical discomfort towards the end, India overhauled Pakistan’s challenging 273 for seven with six wickets and 26 deliveries to spare. The atmosphere at the ground that day was awesome, flags, music and people in perfect sync. Why should Saturday be any different?!

India vs Pakistan teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Rudra Pratap Singh, Ashish Nehra, Abhishek Nayar, Dinesh Kaarthick, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra.

Pakistan: Younis Khan (capt), Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Imran Nazir, Rao Iftikhar, Fawad Alam.
Umpires: Steve Davis and Simon Taufel (both Australia). Third umpire: Ian Gould (England).

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