World Cup 2011 March 29, 2011

Who will seize the day?

When twenty-two men face off in the Punjab, hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis around the world will turn their attention to a sport born in England

Expectant hysteria is reaching a climax. When twenty-two men face off in the Punjab, hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis around the world will turn their attention to a sport born in England but loved with a mad passion in South Asia. Does anybody doubt this is cricket's greatest rivalry? The tension of this moment is intense, and it has spawned daft predictions of India's defeat based on numerology and irrational fears about Pakistan's use of a 'kala pathar' during net sessions.

The test the Indians and Pakistanis face, however, is not simply confined to sport. It is an examination of our maturity, tolerance, and perspective. This is the World Cup semi-final, perhaps the one-day game of greatest import that these nations have contested, fuelled by years of acrimony, atrocities, and politicking. Some of us have already failed the test, but this semi-final is an opportunity to show that sport can unite and ennoble despite a bitter history.

The players themselves have set the best example, enjoying cordial relationships even though the baggage of jingoistic expectations is their constant burden. These are the same cordial relationships and deep friendships enjoyed by Indians and Pakistanis in all walks of life all around the world. Sadly, the pressure cooker environment of South Asia too easily strips us of our maturity, tolerance, and perspective.

With the semi-final throwing up a contest between the tournament's premier batting line-up and the tournament's best bowling attack, we have a mouth-watering contest to anticipate, a celebration of the highest skills in cricket. Is it too much to ask that sport will transcend our differences, that winners and vanquished will be applauded for their thrilling contributions to a tournament that has exceeded expectations? Probably so but we can still dream.

A more tangible dream will be victory for your preferred nation, and in that dreaming Indian fans have a head start, the favourites to succeed. Their team is playing on home territory, on the back of consistent form in this World Cup and for many months prior to it. They are a formidable proposition at home, especially when the high electrical charge of the crowd zaps Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar or Yuvraj Singh into ballistic form. A sense of destiny surrounds Sachin and his quest for his hundredth hundred, the stage seems ready for a grand moment in cricket's history.

Shahid Afridi's dreams will revolve around bringing down those three gladiators. Achieve that and the final will be within sight. Pakistan have the bowling resources to make it possible. Afridi, Umar Gul, and Saeed Ajmal pose a constant threat, and any assistance from Mohammad Hafeez and Abdul Razzaq is a welcome bonus.

The challenge for Pakistan's bowlers, however, will be greater than they have yet faced. India's batting riches ensure that, and the Mohali wicket is expected to play to home strengths. Up to this point, Pakistan's bowling discipline has been exemplary except for a crazy late spell against New Zealand.

That discipline will be essential to prevent the Indian batsmen from plugging into the electric grid of the home crowd and supercharging their way to a large total. Hence high discipline will require the accompaniment of cool nerves to stifle India's batsmen in the hope they might frazzle under the intense pressure of home expectations.

Pakistan's plans are simplified by only two minor selection dilemmas. The batsmen pick themselves, following the recent form of Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, and Asad Shafiq. Gul and Afridi are arguably the leading bowlers in the tournament. Razzaq's role seems unsatisfactory but is a vital one in Waqar Younis's strategy -- a worry for India will be that neither Afridi nor Razzaq has yet played one of their trademark blitzkrieg innings.

The first dilemma, then, is Saeed Ajmal or Abdul Rehman? Pakistan will need to take wickets against India and Ajmal is the spinner that will pose greatest threat. The second dilemma is thornier, Shoaib Akhtar or Wahab Riaz? The sentimental answer would be Akhtar but the variation in line that Riaz offers means that he is a more fitting complement to Pakistan's key wicket-takers.

India begin favourites but Pakistan have every chance to seize the day. The game will be won and lost by Pakistan's success in pressurising India's batsmen. No team has yet won a World Cup on home territory, and no World Cup has seen a match of such intensity. The favourites tag is a heavy burden while Pakistan can be more relaxed away from home pressures, enjoying each moment of exceeding everybody's expectations, they can only gain while India have their own World Cup to lose.

Should MS Dhoni's team overcome those extreme pressures it will be an incredible achievement, which could only be equalled by a team in exile, surrounded by calamity and led by a lightning conductor, reaching a World Cup final in a country that is its greatest rival.

Did somebody say it was only a cricket match?

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on April 3, 2011, 19:09 GMT

    It is clearly evident that the author was hoping for the piece of history that no host has ever won a world cup to come true. Sorry it did not. India changed history. They won the WC2011 at their home ground as hosts. They also chased the highest score in a WC final , a pressure you can only imagine,so chasing team hardly wins world cup is also now a myth as proven by India. From your article it is evident you dont rate anyone in Indian team except Sehwag and 10dulkar. FYI in final both score a total of 18 out of 275 and the future of Indian cricket Gambhir,Kohli ,Dhoni did the rest. Yuvraj hardly batted and Raina did not even need to bat

  • testli5504537 on April 3, 2011, 18:58 GMT

    Its all about reading the situation , adapting to it and finally implementing it however tough the scenario. India/Sachin did that. Anyone under the illusion that Mohd Hafeez can bowl so well evertime to Sachin time and time again as he did WC semifinal is living in denial. 9 out of 10 times Sachin will demolish him. But that day when Hafeez also started harassing Sachin it was evident the pitch was not 300 run track. He adjusted and so did other Indian batsmen and set a target to score 260 instead of 300.They played to plan and their bowlers stuck to a plan and it worked because the Pakistani helped them by not adjusting their own game. Luck is part of the game and if it went to Sachin that day in terms of four dropped catches its not his fault because luck has deserted him many times in past. Theres still no rule or tradition that says that a batter should walk if he is dropped.India has got better of Pakistan under pressure and that itself tells a lot about who is better team.

  • testli5504537 on April 1, 2011, 9:54 GMT

    I am sad about loss but I cherish the performance by a team whom no one expected to do anything except Sanjay Manjrekar. But reality is there to face - Indian team was far more better than us. Our top two batsmen totally scored less than top Indian batsman. Rest have been said by all you.

  • testli5504537 on March 31, 2011, 0:40 GMT

    Hi Kamran, I just finished watching the India - pak semi-final. Several Pakistani qualities cost them the game.1. Lack of strategic thinking by Afridi (Not taking the batting power play when he should have,persisting with Umar Gul, unimaginative field placing etc)2.Pathetic fielding 3.Unimaginative and irresponsible batting ( Hafeez, Misbah)4. Poor wicket keeping. 5. Too many tired old men on the team ( Younis, Misbah, Razzaq, Afridi). ODI cricket requires a team to be good at all aspects:batting, bowling, fielding, wicket keeping, captaincy, physical and mental conditioning. Pakistan is weak in many departments. It is a wonder that they got as far as they did in the tournament.

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 22:07 GMT

    Guys I say this Pakistan can't bat and they dont take catches. Until they do, they can never win. And that's what cost them the match today.

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 21:08 GMT

    I am writing this comment after the game is over. Thank you Pakistan for that pulsating game. Kamran, I guess you were wrong about Wahab! That boy can bowl.

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 20:38 GMT

    Yes, we lost today but the 2011 world cup was a success for Pakistan. We reached the semi-finals which was not expected. So congratulations to the Pakistan team. No team can give a genius like Sachin Tendulkar or for that matter any other international batsman 3 or 4 lives and then expect to win. The so called experts will call for a complete overhaul of the team but it was our fielding that let us down. Yes, there are probably other reasons as well - the failure of Younis and Misbah to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking etc. Some new blood is needed and Pakistan cricket fans can only hope that future teams will be chosen on merit and in the best interests of Pakistan cricket without any nepotism.

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 19:15 GMT

    contrast this article with the result of the match...all the pain in trying to put pak on top through words goes out of the window...

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 18:10 GMT

    Another world cup match, another choke for pakistan, never in the hunt after the second wicket, kamran akmal cost us the match again.

  • testli5504537 on March 30, 2011, 14:29 GMT

    Only a cricket match? Tell that too the entire two nations, probably millions more watching it. Wonderful article :)

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