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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

World Cup 2011 - Mother of all battles

Castrol Index puts the semi-final between India and Pakistan at 153-149, quite closer than what would one expect looking at the rankings of the two teams.

Let us cut the hype that is out in the electronic media and see clear facts:

  • The Indians have not lost to Pakistan in World Cup in four matches played so far. Sachin Tendulkar has played in all the editions and is very much aware of the pressure that comes as part of such matches. Will the streak come to an end? Do not think so - Pakistan has not lost to Sri Lanka in World Cup and the streak continued here as well. Similarly, New Zealand has beaten South Africa in KO matches in World Cup. Similarly, India's streak is set to continue. The Champions Trophy in 2009 saw the Indian team lose for the first time in an ICC tournament. There are quite a few players from both teams who played in this match but the one missing is the Player of the Match, Shoaib Malik
  • The Pakistan team has not had anyone who has scored higher than the top twenty batsmen. There are 3 Indians in the top 10 who have scored heavily. 
  • In the bowling department, Shahid Afridi comes up at the beginning of the table. Zaheer Khan has taken more wickets than Umar Gul. Similarly, Yuvraj Singh and Munaf Patel have taken more than the others in the Pakistan team. Obviously, Indian batsmen have to stave off the danger of Umar Gul more than Afridi, being better batsmen of spin.
The Indian team has been more consistent and even the only match that they lost was because of a poor last over by Ashish Nehra. Despite the big collapses, the team has not scored less than 200 any time. The top 3 batsmen have had starts almost every match and Yuvraj seems to be doing little wrong. The bowling has gained teeth thanks to the inclusion of Ashwin, who has given MS Dhoni an option to rely on other than Zaheer Khan. Harbhajan Singh has not been among wickets but restrained the run-scoring to a large extent. Yuvraj's bowling has been a bonus and there is no reason to think why he will not be able to continue his wicket-taking ways. Suresh Raina, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli will roll their arm over to compensate for any bowler who might have a bad day. So far, it has been Munaf Patel who has been taken apart but tomorrow will be a team that will give him rewards for his consistency of line and length. No changes are expected to the eleven unless Dhoni has another master-stroke up his sleeve. Gary Kirsten has clearly articulated to his team that they will have to raise their levels to beat their 'dangerous' opponent tomorrow.

Afridi suggested that Indians will be more pressurized tomorrow because of the home support. This is where the Pakistan team does not have a mental conditioning coach like Paddy Upton - the Indian team will definitely be the more cooler team on the ground, thanks to inputs from the coaches. MSD in fact, told his players clearly to be not worried by the hype that has been built up.

Shoaib Akhtar is doubtful for the match and one wonders whether there is any other story gaining ground there. The Minister had given a warning to the team two days back about match-fixing - the timing of his statement must make ICC stand up and take notice. Razzaq is key to the balance of the playing eleven as he has proved quite frequently in recent times. The spin department will be taken care by Hafeez and Ajmal, both off-spinners. The batting is brittle for Pakistan with Younis and Misbah expected to prosper against an attack that they have scored quite a few runs of. The Akmal brothers will come to the party hoping to repeat their success so far - once again, no one is sure about the catches that Kamran will take in this match. Coming to the fielding department, this is again one match that the Indians will be better equipped than their opponents.

Overall, a match that India should win convincingly if they can retain their head over the shoulders tomorrow. They are way above their opponents in form as well as quality of players in their lineup. But, will the media's hype play spoilsport? As far as my prediction goes, I will still go for an Indian-Sri Lankan final (Sri Lanka at this point is cruising in their semis today).

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