Less hype, more context
Match factsSaturday, September 26, 2009
Start time 1430 (1230 GMT)
Big pictureFor once, India and Pakistan will not be playing on an island. India-Pakistan matches are usually separate events within the main event, oblivious to the larger picture of the tournament, but this game doesn't seem to be the usual matter of life and death. For once, this match, though the first big clash of the Champions Trophy in terms of traditional rivals coming face to face, is more about the cricket.
What's helped is the tight draw in the tournament format. Pakistan, who have been more vocal in setting up the match (Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and Younis Khan have been quoted on how badly they want to beat India), will know only net run-rate can keep them out of semi-finals if they win this match. India, blighted by injuries to Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, have a year and a half of good work done in ODIs to defend. A loss in their opening match will leave them needing to beat Australia and possibly run-rate calculations to go their way.
The build-up for this match, though, has been different from the last time the two teams met at the same venue, in the 2003 World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar then lived the match a year in advance. Everywhere he went, he was reminded of the match. He said he couldn't sleep properly for 12 nights leading into the game. March 1 was a day people of two countries lived for. If you had asked Tendulkar of this match six months ago, he would have - rightly - not known of any such fixture. Before March 1, 2003, the teams had not played each other for three years. In last three years now, they have played 17 ODIs, six Tests and two Twenty20s.
Hype or no hype, once the match begins, Centurion - and the rest of world, wherever the match is telecast - will be engrossed. Albeit slowly, the atmosphere will build. It can't be such a bad thing if a cricket match is a cricket match and not a war.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
India - WLWWL
Coming off a tri-series win in slow-and-low Sri Lanka, they will need to quickly adjust to livelier pitches in South Africa. Centurion, though, has assisted spin and makes for a smooth transition.
Pakistan - WWWLL
The bowling unit looks almost perfect, as it showed in the win over West Indies. Batting is the weak link, and they need bigger contributions from senior batsmen.
Team newsGautam Gambhir and Younis are fit and ready. But for India the good news is offset immediately by the injury to Yuvraj. They should go with the same batting line-up that won in Sri Lanka, except for Gambhir replacing Yuvraj and Rahul Dravid moving down the order. They will be tempted to play two spinners at SuperSport Park, which has brought much joy to Ajantha Mendis and Roelof van der Merwe in the first two matches. The bowling has been cause of worry for India, and those last three slots will be the most discussed.
India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Virat Kohli/Dinesh Karthik, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9, 10 and 11 three out of Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Ashish Nehra and Amit Mishra.
Who does Younis replace? Misbah-ul-Haq seems the most likely candidate; Umar Akmal would like to think he has earned another match after his Man-of-the-Match performance against West Indies. There seems no need to tinker with the bowling combination.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Imran Nazir, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Younis Khan (capt.), 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Mohammad Yousuf, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 9 Mohammad Aamer, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Watch out for...Pakistan bowlers v Indian batsmen: As has so often been the case, this is the deciding mini contest. Pakistan have three different kinds of fast bowlers, and two different kinds of spinners, who will need a perfect show from opposition batsmen, if they are to be outdone.
Gautam Gambhir and Shahid Afridi Last checked they had to be physically separated from a mid-pitch altercation, in Kanpur. Since then Afridi has become a different man, so mature he seems almost possessed. Will he able to keep his calm when he comes to bowl to Gambhir? Will Gambhir survive for that long?
Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Aamer Tendulkar knows all about pressure, playing Pakistan, and playing Pakistan in pressure games. Will he try to bully and unsettle a 17-year-old opening the bowling against him?
MS Dhoni and Younis Khan Two men seemingly above negative emotion and most likely to stay composed in tense circumstances, and rightly the captains. Are they too cool for an India-Pakistan match?
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have beaten India only once in an ICC tournament, in the 2004 Champions Trophy. India have won in the World Cups in 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2003, and also twice in the 2007 World Twenty20.
- Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer have never played India in an international. Neither have Virat Kohli, Amit Mishra and Abhishek Nayar played Pakistan.
- Tendulkar, with 2381 runs to his name, is 22 short of Inzamam-ul-Haq's record aggregate in India-Pakistan matches. In current teams, Dravid (1823) and Afridi (1404) are the other leading run-getters.
- In 14 ODIs against Pakistan, Harbhajan Singh has taken nine wickets at an average of 71.11 and a strike rate of 90.6 balls per wicket.
"I was told four weeks rest but I want to take my chance tomorrow, playing against India. Maybe if it wasn't India I would've skipped this match"
Younis Khan forgets his injury to take on traditional rivals
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo