Time for Saturday showdown

In-form Indian batsmen to face stiff challenge from Pakistan bowlers in Group 'B' match

Time for Saturday showdown

On the face of it, Saturday’s India-Pakistan match is of little consequence in terms of either team’s fortunes in the Champions Trophy.

India are already in the semifinals with two wins in as many matches while Pakistan will be going home irrespective of the outcome of Saturday’s encounter following their twin losses. But then, no India-Pakistan contest can be taken at face value; not at least for the large expat community from these two neighbouring countries living in this city.

The intensity and the passion with which an India-Pakistan match is watched may have gradually diminished over the last few years. When the two teams clashed with each other in India late last year in a three-match series, empty stands at Chennai and Kolkata revealed the famed rivalry no longer spawned the same emotions. This, however, may not hold true outside the sub-continent when supporters of both countries pack the stadium to witness a Group ‘B’ face-off.

The tickets for this match were sold out in less than three hours after the counters were thrown open more than two months ago and if a Pakistani cab driver, who himself managed to land two tickets at two times the original price, is to be believed, more than 60 percent of the seats at the Edgbaston Stadium will be occupied by Indian supporters.

As two of the most vibrant communities among migrant population here, Indians and Pakistanis enjoy a quiet rivalry and a cricket match between the two countries often provides them with a chance to earn the bragging rights.

Pakistan, out of the tournament and hence under attack at home, would be desperate to finish their campaign on a winning note not just as a consolation prize but to pacify the raging anger against the team. After all, a win over India can tide over many problems in Pakistan.

A forecast for rain, however, threatens to spoil the sub-continent party. Pakistan shuttled between indoors and outdoors during their practice due to intermittent rains while India were forced to stick to indoor nets. This was only the fourth practice session for India on this trip but they will point to the perfect campaign they have had so far.

With their openers – Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan -- in top form, batting department has been in pristine touch. Dhawan, who made two back-to-back centuries, and Rohit have had two century stands in as many matches and the middle-order has been able to capitalise on the solid starts they have provided.

The three-pronged Pakistani attack is likely to give the enviable Indian batting some testing time in conditions that suit their type of bowling.

Pakistan could have done with some variety in their attack – all their seamers are left-arm bowlers – but the trio has been effective in its job. Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz are all capable of swinging the ball at good pace that could pose some real problems for Indians, especially for the openers.

Rohit and Dhawan have been quite efficient at the top of the order. The left-right combination has exercised reasonable restraint without looking too defensive and if they can pass the Pak pace test, it will add to their confidence.

The same can’t be said about Pakistani batting though. They folded up for 170 and 167 respectively against West Indies and South Africa with only Nasir Jamshed and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq showing some stomach for fight.

Indian bowling hasn’t been as impressive as their batting with both matches put together, but their bowlers have had their moments and against a struggling Pakistani batting, they will fancy their chances.

The Indian bowlers have been well-supported by their fielders. Fielding, perhaps, has been the finest feature of India’s campaign so far. And the mere mention of it brings a smile to MS Dhoni’s face.

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