Stakes high in marquee clash
March 2, 2014
Start time 1400 local (0800 GMT)
India and Pakistan have won one match each, and have each lost a close game against Sri Lanka. It's a cliché to call this India-Pakistan meeting a virtual semi-final, but that, under the circumstances, might well ring true. Neither side has performed to anything like full capacity so far. India's bowlers didn't look particularly threatening even against Bangladesh, and Pakistan's top-order tardiness nearly cost them against Afghanistan. Both teams made match-turning errors against Sri Lanka.
Ordinarily, as has been the case throughout the recent history of the two sides, this would be billed as a clash between India's batsmen and Pakistan's bowlers. Those are still the respective teams' strong suits, but an inexperienced middle-order might put India at a disadvantage in that particular mini-contest. Pakistan will also be playing an India side that could be a little low on confidence, having won only one out of their last nine completed ODI matches.
A lot of Pakistan's batsmen looked good out in the middle in their first two games, but nearly all of them threw their wickets away with silly shots or, in the case of their captain Misbah-ul-Haq, a comedy run-out. After their match against Afghanistan, Misbah said the batsmen couldn't afford to keep repeating the same mistakes, but indicated he would keep faith in the same batting order. Fawad Alam waits in the wings, but it might be a little unfair on Sharjeel Khan or Sohaib Maqsood to single one of them out for two displays of collective carelessness.
Zaheer Abbas, Pakistan's chief cricket consultant, said on Saturday that the rash shots might have been cases of the batsmen looking to get out of jail on a sluggish Fatullah pitch. The ball, he said, was likely to come on a little quicker in Mirpur.
Pakistan's players trained on Saturday, while the Indians - barring Varun Aaron and Cheteshwar Pujara - didn't. Aaron bowled to a dummy batsman, with a circular target attached to the net behind off stump, while Pujara faced a group of net bowlers who were barely club class. Of the two, Aaron seems likelier to play against Pakistan, with India perhaps looking to give their middle-order combination one more chance before making any changes. With no one talking to the media, though, this remains pure conjecture.
Aaron hardly covered himself in glory against Bangladesh, and was left out for the allrounder Stuart Binny for the Sri Lanka game. Binny, in that match, was out for a duck and only bowled four overs. More than their respective displays, the shift in venue might prompt India to go back to having a genuine third seamer.
Spinners have more or less similar records in Fatullah and Mirpur, but the quicker bowlers have done distinctly better at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. India have Aaron and Ishwar Pandey to choose between for that third seamer's slot, but the amount of time Aaron spent bowling on Saturday suggests he might have a role to play.
Form guide(Completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
Bhuvneshwar Kumar made an impressive international debut against Pakistan 14 months ago, and has looked good with the new ball so far in the tournament without having the wickets to show for it. He also seems to have worked on his death bowling, and was particularly accurate with his yorkers against Bangladesh. That aspect of his game suffered against Sri Lanka, with dew making it difficult to grip the ball, but it will help India greatly if he can hit the blockhole consistently in this game.
Ahmed Shehzad's gotten off to fine starts in both his innings so far, but he will want to make bigger scores than 28 and 50. Shehzad has the spiky hair and prominent eyebrows of Virat Kohli, and some of his shots suggest a comparable level of talent. There's no better way to prove that than making big score against India.
If the pitch in Mirpur plays true to its history, India will want a genuine third seamer rather than a medium-pace-bowling allrounder. This means Varun Aaron might come back in for Stuart Binny, but the side is likely to remain unchanged otherwise.
India (likely): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Ambati Rayudu, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Varun Aaron.
Pakistan's top-order hasn't been consistent, and Shahid Afridi, in his current avatar, seems to be occupying a place too high in the batting order, but they are unlikely to make any changes from their eleven against Afghanistan.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Sharjeel Khan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Sohaib Maqsood, 6 Umar Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Anwar Ali, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Junaid Khan.
Stats and trivia
- If he plays, Ravindra Jadeja will make his 100th ODI appearance .
- The last meeting between India and Pakistan in Mirpur, in March 2012, was Sachin Tendulkar's last ODI appearance.
"It is more of a media creation. It is not really for the players. They play their normal game. The pressure always comes from the public as they want their country to win."
Pakistan cricket consultant Zaheer Abbas on the pressures of India-Pakistan cricket
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo