Indians take on Pakistan in must-win clash

Team selection a worry for Dhoni
Last Updated 29 September 2012, 20:12 IST

Not for the first time in this competition, India find themselves in an unenviable position.

Having crashed out of the tournament without a single win in the Super Eight stages of the last two editions in England and the West Indies, MS Dhoni and company began in a similar fashion, losing their Group 2 opening match to Australia here at the R Premadasa stadium on Friday. The defeat was as demoralising as it was morale-boosting against England only a few days ago in the first phase of the tournament.

It will require a great amount of pep talking by the team’s think-tank and no less resolve by the players themselves to bounce back from such a crushing loss as they run into highflying Pakistan, who notched up a thrilling two-wicket win over a bungling South Africa earlier on Friday.

Not since the 2007 final at Johannesburg, where India prevailed in a last-over thriller, the two Asian neighbours have met each other again in a World T20 match and as such their Sunday’s clash promises plenty of drama and excitement.

The contest is also a must-win for Dhoni’s men if they have to fancy their chances of progressing further in the tournament but they know Pakistan will be extremely difficult to overcome, regardless of India’s stranglehold over their arch-rivals in World events -- whether it’s the 50-over World Cup or World T20. If the immediate past is any indicator, then Pakistan hold a theoretical edge over India. Not only did Mohammad Hafeez’s inspired bunch hand India a defeat by chasing a 180-plus total in a warm-up match here, they also completed a sensational comeback win over South Africa that should hold them in good stead.

On the other hand, Australia hit India’s five-bowler policy for a six in a brutally clinical performance with both the ball and the bat. Though well-conceived, the nine-wicket demolition has forced the team management to rethink their strategy against Pakistan.
Will they bite the bullet and take the risk of leaving out Virender Sehwag again or sacrifice a bowler? Either decision is like a double-edged sword but given the opponents, Dhoni will be better off having Sehwag at the top of the order.

Yes, Dhoni hasn’t yet given a fair run to 6-5 formula to conclude it as a failure but one has to take into account that many of India-Pakistan battles are won in the mind. To have that psychological edge going into such a crucial match, India need Sehwag, the one player capable of inducing the fear of God in bowlers’ minds. The other option is to keep Yuvraj Singh out of the mix but that appears a thin possibility at the moment. India will also have realised that even if they pack their side with seven batsmen, it’s of little use if they suffer an inexplicable slide like the one against Australia.

It’s funny how in a matter of one defeat things turn on their heads.
Following their win over England, Dhoni had claimed he was happy to have a problem of plenty but after their loss to Australia, the Indian skipper is now facing plenty of problems. It’s an ideal opportunity, one might think, for Pakistan to break the India jinx at world events.

Their spinners’ success against South Africa might be tempting for Pakistan to go again with three specialists in Saeed Ajmal, Raza Hasan and Shahid Afridi besides skipper Hafeez himself but it will also be playing on the back of their mind that Indians are a much better players of spin than the Proteas. Pakistan’s wobbly batting display on Friday was an encouraging sign for India; just as their bowling performance against Australia was to Pakistan.

Sunday, though, will put to test not just the skills of the two sides but their fortitude as well.

Teams (from): India: MS Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir (vice-capt), Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathi Balaji, Manoj Tiwary, Piyush Chawla, Ashok Dinda.

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Arafat, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Raza Hasan, Asad Shafiq, Abdul Razzaq, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Sami.
Match officials: Umpires: Rod Tucker (Australia), Richard Kettleborough (England); Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka); Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).

(Published 29 September 2012, 07:28 IST)

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