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Earlier this year, India and Pakistan played out a 'warm up' at the Twenty20 World Cup. It had the atmosphere of a final. These old rivals have also tussled in South Africa in major tournaments, the close encounters of the 2007 World T20 being the most exciting. Yet perhaps the match of greatest importance was the 2003 World Cup clash at Centurion Park, a defeat that marked the end of an era.
For well over a decade, Pakistan had held the upper hand and approached a must-win match with a team full of the modern legends of Pakistan cricket. Unfortunately, that tournament was the twilight of the idols. India, meanwhile, were beginning to flex their muscles as a formidable international force. When the braggard Shoaib Akhtar steamed in expecting to demolish Sachin Tendulkar's defences, the little master smote him to the boundary and beyond. In that moment, Pakistan were vanquished and South Asia's baton of supremacy passed eastwards.
In the intervening years, India's cricketers have outplayed Pakistan's, while their adminstrators have given their Pakistani counterparts a sound thrashing. Clearly, the turmoil around and within Pakistan's borders has made the PCB's task difficult, although the PCB's inadequacies have also been a major contributor to the fragile state of Pakistan cricket.
Now Younis Khan's team approaches this Champions Trophy contest with a hint of momentum, and the confidence of World T20 Champions. Despite India being weakened, Pakistan will start as underdogs, which will help them. Importantly, they have avoided a potential banana skin on a difficult track against West Indies, however unconvincingly.
India have also indulged in some pre-tournament nonsense with Gary Kirsten's sex dossier urging the Indian players to indulge often, and even single-handedly, to build testosterone levels. A quick search of Google Scholar provides no reliable evidence that sex can boost testosterone levels sufficiently to enhance performance. The evidence on going "solo" is non existent. It's a study that might be difficult to conduct as most top sportsmen probably want to keep their nocturnal shenanigans to themselves. Either way, India's opponents will take great pleasure in the sledging opportunites that been showered upon them.
As ever, Pakistan supporters have no expectation that their team has a secret dossier of any kind. More importantly, they have no idea what to expect from their team but the focus of debate is around selection. The easiest one to deal with is Mohammad Asif. It would be nonsensical to introduce him at this stage, which means it's hard to see why he would be selected at all in this tournament. A couple of years ago, this young man carried the hopes of Pakistan's bowling fortunes. A privileged position that he threw away through his own stupidity.
Asif is immensely fortunate to be back in international cricket. He is also immensely short of match practice, something the Pakistan team management chose not to correct in the build up to this tournament. What's more, the Pakistan attack has a settled look to it and a balance that should suit most surfaces, especially Centurion Park.
The trickier decision is who should Younis Khan replace, assuming he remains fit? First, Younis has to play, He is captain and leader. That leaves Imran Nazir, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Yousuf, and Misbah-ul-Haq. Nazir must play too. He is the only opener in Pakistan's squad and has a destructive ability that can swing any match. I'd play Malik for his ability to lay a firm foundation but also mount an assault. He is also a sixth bowling option and a reliable fielder.
I'd also play Misbah. He is a more natural one-day player than Yousuf and despite his recent form I'd back him to marshall the lower order better than his more illustrious colleague. In truth, I'm not sure what Yousuf's role is in the one-day team? He is the weakest fielder amongst the batsmen, and his real value is in Test cricket rather than in the limited-overs variety. It's touching that Pakistan are patiently welcoming him back into the bosom of the one-day team but wouldn't it be better to back a younger, hungrier man, a player for the future? Is Yousuf a realistic candidate for the next World Cup?
Of course, Yousuf has the ability to prove any critic wrong but the signals from Younis are that he wants to leave a legacy, a formidable group to take Pakistan cricket onwards after his retirement. In that case, he needs to identify some new batting heroes, other than Umar Akmal, and he must find them quickly.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets hereFeeds: Kamran Abbasi
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi