George Orwell, one of the greatest writers of all times, wrote in Sporting Spirit, “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield.”
Mr. Orwell hit the nail right on its head when he argued in the same essay that “Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921.”
As the world braces itself ahead of the bull-game on Sunday in Manchester, UK—India vs Pakistan—in Cricket World Cup 2019, for professional cricketers on both sides of Line of Control will be just another game.
Cricket enthusiasts from both nuclear head states have their obvious pick-ups, though, caught geographically in-between, in Kashmir, however, cricket is not just a sport. It is politics. It can be a cathartic experience or painful memory, depending upon the fact which team emerges triumphant in the end.
A result in India-Pakistan encounter means an opportunity to express a larger political sentiment for many Kashmiris.
To borrow a phrase from Mr. Orwell, Indo-Pak cricket is indeed “war minus the shooting” for large sections of Kashmiris who follow the game of cricket.
Be that as it may, which team is the favorite to win Sunday’s encounter?
Indeed, Pakistan stunned India by winning the Champions Trophy finals against the arch-rival in 2017, but the Sarfaraz-led side needs to raise its standards by several notches to repeat such an act this time around.
Historically, the Pakistani team has maintained an overall edge against India in both tests and ODIs—two main formats of the game—but haven’t beaten the Indian side in the world cup encounters on six previous occasions. Of 131 ODIs played between the rivals, the former has won 73 while the latter emerged triumphant in only 54. But in the last few years, India has maintained a decent record.
So, who is expected to win?
On paper, India appears a much stronger and also a balanced side. India’s bowling, which, in the past, used to be its weakness, is now holding the banner with pacers like of Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and also the spin duo comprising Kuldeep Yadav and Yuz Chahal.
The batting is top heavy with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, MSD and Co.
Can Pakistan surprise India again?
Yes, there is every chance. India should be slightly worried about the latest Shikhar Dhawan’s thumb injury, that has ruled out the southpaw from playing. He is likely to stay away from the game for at least three weeks. That means India’s left-handed and right-handed combination at the top stands disturbed.
Two, Mr. Sharma, the opener, has struggled against quality left-arm pacers. Both Trent Boult and Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir have troubled him with an in-swinger. The incoming delivery becomes his undoing early in the piece. If Pak’s pacer can swing the ball early on and succeed in trapping the Hit-Man plumb in front, Pakistan could put India’s untested middle-order under a lot of pressure.
The next worry for India is Wahab Riyaz’s form, fitness, and pace. Mr. Riyaz has an uncanny knack of raising his game to another level in big encounters, especially against India. Remember his five-for against India in the 2011 semi-finals at Mohali or his epic spell against Australia’s Shane Watson in the 2015 world cup match.
What is Pakistan’s strength?
Indeed, the form of experienced campaigner Mohammad Hafeez known by sobriquet Professor for his game awareness and cricketing mind. He seems to have found his form at the twilight of his career. Adding to that Pakistan’s reasonably decent opening pair comprising Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman and a good looking middle-order with Hafeez, Malik, Asif, Sarfaraz and Shadab, Pak will have a say.
Wahab, Amir, and Hassan are no mugs with the bat.
Moreover, the bowling form of Amir, Wahab, and Shadab should be a cause of concern for India.
Pakistan’s Achilles Heel:
Pakistan’s weakness, however, is their low-on-confidence and unimaginative skipper Sarfaraz. The penchant for collapse under a pressure cooker situation, especially while chasing a target, is a major weak area. The other concern obviously is the terrible form of Shoaib Malik. And why Asif fails to put a price tag on his wicket?
What is India’s strength?
Indeed, the one and only Mr. Kohli with the bat. In simple words, he is a run machine. The ability of Mr. Sharma to score big runs if he survives the hostile opening spells. Then, of course, Mr. Dhoni with all his experience with the bat and also his role with the wicket-keeping gloves behind the stumps. Let us not forget Bumrah, Bhuvi, and Chahal with the ball. Mind you, you can underestimate the game changer, Hardik Pandya, at your own peril.
India’s weakness is the absence of Mr. Dhawan which puts Rahul in difficult territory. The new ball in the hands of Amir and old ball in Wahab’s possession are two big challenges for India. Their fragile middle-order would be exposed if the top three fall inside 15 overs. Moreover, the absence of a decent fifth bowler. Pakistan can take advantage of the 10 overs which are likely to be bowled by lesser-known bowlers—Pandya and Jadhav.
Pakistan can win if they bat first and succeed in posting anything between 320-340 on the board. That will allow Pakistani bowlers to go after the Indian batting line-up with a cushion, which also means that Sarfaraz can set an attacking field for his bowlers. In case India bat first and score anything above 280, it could mean curtains for Pakistan.
All said and done—it is not easy to predict the result of an India-Pakistan match. For it is not just a match. It is perhaps the greatest encounter in cricket. It is South Asia’s El-Clasico.
Let the best team on the day win—if not infamous England’s rain—cricket should be the ultimate winner.