India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group B, Edgbaston June 14, 2013

Dhoni wants to maintain momentum

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tahir on June 15, 2013, 11:34 GMT

    looks like D/L will play today as well but for that Pakistan have to set a good target.

  • Mohd. Kashif on June 15, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    India relies more on their batting strength whereas Pakistan relies on their bowling strength. So it will be a game of batting vs bowling. Let's wait for the spark to go off.

  • Naresh on June 15, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    INDIA should change their batting order for the sake of letting 5,6,7 get some form before the important semi and final (if they make it). Their bowlers are not the best in this CT. Jadeja is a good spinner and creates pressure thru accurate spin bowling. Mishra needs to be brought in to see his worth. I feel that this game should be used more for testing/trying out a combination.

  • Indy on June 15, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    No way. We should let our good players rest for tomorrow's game. Let's look at the big picture of winning the whole thing instead of beating Pakistan. Clearly they don't have a good team right now so what's the use in beating them in a useless game.

  • Shanmugam on June 15, 2013, 3:07 GMT

    The only chance for India to win today is that win the toss, elect to bat first, start the proceedings with 240 as target in mind, after 30 overs reassess to aim for 280+. Aiming for bigger target from the beginning itself is going to be fatal, may end up with 150. The PAK players knows very well the fact that their fans will forgive them for their poor performance in CT if they beat India. The PAK will be succumbed to the pressure of expectations and chasing. The same will be applicable to INDIA. So far in CT the expectations was low for India which took the pressure away from the players and helped the to perform freely. Now India become the team to beat and the expectations are not only lifting the trophy and also beating their arch rivals and avenge the ODI series loss to them at home. IND vs PAK is always a pressure game and who handles the pressure on that day will make merry at the end of the day.

  • yasir on June 15, 2013, 2:58 GMT

    After saeed anwar and amir sohail pakistan have best opening combition,of nasir and hafeez or kamran. Kamran is stroke player and he can not stay not think kamran is best for open with nasir. Hafeez can handle presure so he can beat on no 3. No.4 is best option misbah no.5 asad no6.malik no7 is amin it this team there is some hope totay.

  • Ivan on June 14, 2013, 22:44 GMT

    India will do well to remember that batting is a one ball game. The openers have done well but be prepared - in the semi final they could both fall cheaply while chasing a score of ~300 so the middle order will need to play really well. While India have sailed through so far, as you go deep into the tournament, the teams with momentum - SA and Sri Lanka could be super dangerous and can trip India So beware India and win tomorrow against Pakistan to keep the momentum going.

  • Dummy4 on June 14, 2013, 18:28 GMT

    i dont think there is any thing like Dead rubber between these 2. Last time during pak visit, pak already won the series but the intensity of players, fans were high in last as well. Full packed house. Yes india has won all during worldcups. and pakistan won both times in CT. however, i dont think past matters much. its all about that day.

    Surely india will not want to break wining momentum, & may be this is the tougher bowling examination they will get in group stage. & a loss always bring questions out which india may not want. & pakistan will also try to win atleast 1 game. winless tour may not be a best situation.

    Imran should be dropped with only available batsman Asad in ( such poor selection they dont have any options) & kamran to open.

    India look well set to win CT. batting really firing. bowlers doing ok to balance batting. Every body really contributing . With pakistan misfiring batting i think india are favorite for this game.

    weather forecast also not that good.

  • Dummy4 on June 14, 2013, 18:16 GMT

    Like what Mr.M.S.D said the opening stand will be the most crucial aspect of the game.The openers generally passes the confidence to the others if they have done well and vice versa.All the best India and it looks like we have a very balanced side now.

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