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Well, this is all very exciting. History will ultimately be the judge of whether today’s game is indeed the most important event in the six-billion-year history of Planet Earth, but, going by the press coverage alone, it has to be a contender. Ravichandran Ashwin against Mohammad Hafeez – it’s like Napoleon versus the Duke of Wellington all over again.
The heavens opened spectacularly in Mohali last night, the fearsome opening pair of Thunder and Lightning ably supported by first-change bowler Torrential Rain, but thankfully The Weather has now been ushered well away from the PCA after the ICC rescinded its press accreditation due to alleged violation of contractual agreements.
Many have said that this game will be decided as much, or more, by which team can control their emotions than by cricketing skill. As we saw in Colombo yesterday, 30,000 decibel-shatteringly passionate supporters can turn into a 30,000-person nervous gulp. When Sri Lanka momentarily appeared to be tanking a guaranteed winning position, and the normally granite-stomached Sangakkara, after an innings of supreme cool and craft, inexplicably sent a precision bloop directly into the hands of third man, I had not seen so many anxious faces since Gordon Brown threatened to belly dance at the 2008 Labour Party conference.
Will the PCA crowd today prove to be a help or a hindrance to India? Will Dhoni’s ethereal aura of calm sustain in the frenzy of the most-watched cricket match of all time? How will Pakistan’s hitherto almost impregnable spin stranglehold react if India’s powerbatting starts tucking into it? Will India’s powerbatting even be able to tuck into the tournament’s best tweak team and fast bowler? Will India’s effectively-one-man pace attack be enough on a pitch that may offer little assistance? How will Pakistan’s batting fare in the face of a big total – they crumbled like freshly stewed rhubarb at a dessert-making contest in their one sizeable chase this World Cup, against New Zealand in Pallekelle? Whose limbs will Kamran Akmal be using today?
The game might be decided by a single knife-edge blast of brilliance, a captaincy gamble that either works or backfires, a schoolboy nerves-induced pratfall. It might be won at a canter by overwhelming batting dominance, or superior bowling incision. This is a genuinely fascinating contest. And if it directly or indirectly aids the cause of political harmony (and/or celebrity public profiles) in the bargain, so much the better.
OFFICIAL ZALTZMAN MICROPREDICTION (as in yesterday’s podcast): India to win. Either by 53 runs if they bat first (306-8 v 253 all out); or by 6 wickets (247-7 v 249-4 (47.1 overs)).
● Sadly from my point-of-view, although not too high on the list of great tragedies of the modern era, I will not be in the stadium for today’s megagame. The rather tetchy PCA Press Box has meant that I am insufficiently important as a ‘journalist’ to win media accreditation. Sadly, and unaccountably, the ICC do not prioritise media passes on a Most Juvenile Writers First basis. And, surprisingly, neither Indian nor Pakistani governments consider me sufficiently important either economically or diplomatically to extend me an invitation. Instead, I will try to find a big screen in Chandigarh and a large crowd of Indian fans with whom to watch the game. I will report tomorrow on the ensuing communal gargatuoparty or hypersulk, depending on the result.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.