The most-looked forward to contest of the 2017 Champions Trophy. The mother of all cricket matches. The biggest rivalry in the sport. India versus Pakistan.
14 months after they last met in an international match – and for the first time in an ODI since the World Cup 2015– the arch rivals will come up against each other at Edgbaston on Sunday, 4 June.
India are overwhelming favourites to win this fixture on the basis of numbers. They are ranked third in the ICC ODI rankings, while Pakistan lie a lowly eighth in the table. Even recent form, and results at the venue sway towards India.
There is a vast difference in the experience of the two sides too. The fifteen players in the Indian squad have nearly twice the number of ODI caps, runs and hundreds as compared to the aggregate in the Pakistan squad. In high-stakes matches such as these, experience and the ability to handle pressure, plays a huge role – and the Indian players are certainly better equipped to handle the pressure.
The Pakistan camp will take confidence from the fact that they’ve defeated India in two of the three ICC Champions Trophy matches – especially when seen in contrast to the fact that they’ve never defeated India in 50-over World Cups.
For the better part of a generation, an India-Pakistan match has generally been a contest between Indian batsmen and Pakistan’s bowlers, while India boasted of a line-up containing Virender Sehwag,
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly amongst others, Pakistan boasted of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in its pace attack, not to forget wily spinners like Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed and/or Saeed Ajmal.
Now, the Indian team fields a bowling attack which can test the best in the business, though the team management faces a tricky question on which three to pick. If one were to be influenced by the conditions one saw in the Australia-New Zealand match on Friday, India should field Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin completing the bowling attack.
Having won the competition in England in 2013, defending champions India know better than other teams what it takes to win the competition. India will hope one of the top three batsmen can boss over opponents and string together a series of three big innings – like Shikhar Dhawan did three years ago when he topped the run-scorers lists.
Challenges Aplenty for Kohli
These are tough times for Virat Kohli. He has hit a lean patch with the bat in these last few months, is in a country where he hasn’t fared well previously, and then there are the ill-timed reports of there being differences between him and coach Anil Kumble. The time is now for Kohli to start enjoying his cricket once again; as the team’s premier batsman, runs from his willow are absolutely crucial to the team.
History isn’t with him, but it is such challenges that Kohli likes to fight. Will he be able to leave all the muck aside and turn his focus solely to the purpose of scoring runs?
Q: Should India & Pakistan play?
These are strange times in which this match will be played – in the background of tension between the two countries, almost daily reports of incidents on the border, and an absolute ‘No’ from the political hierarchy in India for bilateral contests against Pakistan.
The ICC still deems it fit to organize this contest, for it is the biggest money-spinner of them all and the one match that will ensure a windfall into its coffers. Should this contest happen? Should sportsmen be left to do their jobs just like the rest of the world goes about their daily lives?
Should politics influence sports calendars? Does the atmosphere between the two nations add to the passion of an India-Pakistan cricket contest?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.