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June 14, 2013
There is no point wasting time debating about the significance of this match. India versus Pakistan in cricket, anywhere, any series, at any stage of the tournament has never been, can never be, a dead game. It does not matter whether the stands are choc-a-bloc or there are a few thousand seats left vacant - the needle of the contest is as sharp as ever.
India will take this final group match seriously only because they do not want to enter the semi-finals hit by a fresh bout of doubts in case of a defeat. Pakistan will look forward to playing some mischief as only they can by playing their best game. Confidence and momentum are important going into a big match like the semi-finals and MS Dhoni pointed out how important Saturday will be for India.
Misbah-ul-Haq had already said that for Pakistan there would be no pressure. Asked to expand on whether Pakistan were more dangerous or less, Dhoni said it depended on the opposition's mindset. "It depends on what they are thinking. If their thinking is they have nothing really to lose, let's go out, be expressive on the field, don't bother about the result, then they can be dangerous. But if the thinking is they are not qualified, this is a game against India, let's win this game so we have it as a consolation prize, they'll be in big trouble," Dhoni said ahead of India's training session on Friday.
From being the underdogs before the Champions Trophy began, India have become the team to beat. The last time both teams played, in India earlier this year, Pakistan had won the ODI series. One of the biggest factors behind India's struggle back then was the lack of momentum created by the openers.
In that series, India had tried out three openers, who scored an aggregate of 78 runs in three innings, averaging 12.16 for the opening wicket. Ajinkya Rahane played just one match and scored four runs; Virender Sehwag got 35 runs in two innings while Gautam Gambhir could muster only 34 in three matches. Never once did the Indian openers raise a fifty-run stand, and kept exposing the middle order early.
In contrast the back-to-back century stands between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been one of the pillars of India's success so far in the Champions Trophy. Dhawan and Rohit have put on 228 runs, at a run-rate of 6.19, both numbers the highest by any opening pair.
"We are a side that relies quite a bit on a good start," Dhoni said. "It doesn't really mean that we always need hundred-run partnership. We need some time, the openers need to spend some time in the middle, and that really comes from the dressing room. That has been the case whenever we have got off to a good start; more often than not we have been able to capitalize on that."
At the same time Dhoni is aware of that Pakistan have one of the better bowling line-ups, especially the threat of their spin twins Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. The pair has been the most economical against India in the last five years from June 2008 (minimum five innings). Ajmal's bowling average of 18.41 against India is the second best among spin bowlers against since 2000 after James Tredwell's 18.18 (minimum five innings). In the same five years Hafeez has the best economy rate against India among spinners - 3.57 from 49 overs followed by Ajmal's 4.03 from 77.3 overs
Dhoni said India were not getting worried too much and their focus was to carry on doing what they have been doing right so far. "The fact that we have quite consistently scored runs - that is something that is very important. The fact that we have been able to chase scores and good scores against good bowlers and good wickets where there was a bit of bounce for the fast bowlers. All in all it is a very pleasing aspect, and also the bowling department we have seen if there's a bit of help for the fast bowlers, even though our fast bowlers can come back in the game, bowl really well in the middle overs, so overall I've been very happy. Fielding, we have not been known for our fielding standards, but we have seen I think right now we are the best fielding side. You can compare us to any other side, and most of our fielders, they are good fielders, and the rest are above average fielders."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
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