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September 13, 2007
When India and Pakistan clash, the buzz is generally around the players who could turn in the match-winning performance, but thanks to all the rain around Durban the weather has taken centrestage on the eve of this high-profile game - the forecast predicts 60% chance of evening showers.
Pakistan have already qualified for the Super Eights and can, if they choose to, take this as a practice match before the next stage. India, though, have more at stake: if they lose such that their run-rate is more than 2.55 lesser than Pakistan's (by more than 51 runs if Pakistan score 160, or if Pakistan chase down India's 160 in 15 overs or lesser), they will be knocked out of the Super Eights stage of a World Cup for the second time in one year.
Despite all the talk by Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the contrary, the Indians will be feeling the pressure when they step out at Kingsmead on Friday.
Bat play: The Indians missed out on an opportunity to get a hit in the middle, but Dhoni mentioned after the wash-out that the same 12 have been chosen for Friday. That probably means the same XI will play, and the batting line-up will be exactly the same as well. There are potential match-winners there, but the challenge will be to step it up against a dangerous bowling attack in conditions which will be unfamiliar for the Indians.
Pakistan's batting wasn't entirely convincing either, but it always looked like they weren't pushing the accelerator at full throttle. Even with qualification not on the line, expect them to come hard at the Indian bowlers. A promotion up the order is on the cards for Shahid Afridi.
Wrecking ball: Umar Gul had a field day against Scotland, and if conditions remain overcast - and forecasts suggest they will - expect Gul and Mohammad Asif to ask plenty of questions of the Indian batsmen. India have Sreesanth, RP Singh and Ajit Agarkar in their ranks, but if conditions assist swing, Irfan Pathan, who already has a hat-trick to his name against Pakistan is Tests, could be the one to watch out for.
Keep your eye on: Asif. The Indians have generally struggled against him, and even in a batsman-dominated game, his four overs could push them back significantly.
Shop talk: Most players like to play down the significance of an India-Pakistan match, but Salman Butt, the Pakistan opener, made no attempt to pass it off as just another game. "It's the biggest game there is," Butt said. "The whole nation will be depending on us to do well. There are two sides to the coin. You can either see the match as a pressure situation or as an opportunity to perform."
Dhoni, on the other hand, refused to believe the washout against Scotland had placed his team under extra pressure. "There is so much pressure in international cricket that a little extra expectation makes no difference." The Indians will also be putting on the line their record of never having lost to Pakistan in a World Cup match: they have beaten them four times, though they were all in the 50-over format.
Pitching it right: If the first two games here were any indication, the pitch should offer a few challenges to the batsmen - there was sideways movement on offer, which could be exaggerated under cloudy skies.
India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh, Sreesanth.
Pakistan (likely): Salman Butt, Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Yasir Arafat, Umar Gul, Mohammad Asif.