Never mind the lack of hype
Match factsMarch 21, 2014
Start time 1930 local (1330 GMT)
Big pictureThere was a time when India-Pakistan matches, no matter where they were being played, no matter what tournament they were part of, brought two entire countries to a halt for days. All the people could talk of days, weeks, months in advance was "the match". Sachin Tendulkar didn't sleep properly for 12 nights leading into India's World Cup match against Pakistan in 2003. He said he was made to live that match a year in advance. Pakistan players were believed to find extra powers when they played India. All sorts of myth surrounded the match. That India couldn't beat Pakistan on a Friday was a fact nobody contested.
This match hasn't that kind of anticipation. And it's not as if there has been a glut of India-Pakistan matches to make this less significant. It is just that times are changing. Even warm-up matches are live on television. It all means less time for the mind to build up to the big one. It doesn't help that for the first time in the history of tournaments of five or more teams that India and Pakistan are playing the first match of the main draw. It is like asking Bruce Springsteen to be the opening act on a rock concert. A bit like shahi paneer or butter chicken at the start of the buffet.
It can't be such a bad thing, though, that there isn't much hype attached to this match. As it is there will be nerves and edginess at the start of a big tournament; it can do without unwanted, at times uncricketing pressures. And if the match is good enough - like another supposed-to-be-nondescript one 19 days ago was - it will capture the people's imagination.
The modern, almost classical by now, differences between India and Pakistan will be on show. India stable, at times to the point of stubbornness but still stable. Pakistan happy to chop and change, their captain's neck always under the block. India with their batsmen. Pakistan with their bowlers. India with their love of the chase. Pakistan defence. With a warm feeling, nonetheless, of two of their best chases of recent times - the Test against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, the Asia Cup ODI against India in Dhaka - and the dew almost certain to play a role in this evening game. Don't worry about the absence of hype; this match will be all right by the time MS Dhoni and Mohammad Hafeez walk out for the toss at 7pm on Friday. And, by the way, many of the players on these teams are young enough to not even know of the Ghost Of The Friday.
Form guide(most recent first) India WWLLW
Watch out forR Ashwin v Saeed Ajmal. On slow and low pitches much like both spinners' home conditions, these offspinners with deliveries that go away in their repertoire will be a contest to savour. Ajmal, in particular, has given India much grief. Even Tendulkar couldn't pick his doosra. The Indians now are facing unorthodox net bowlers to simulate Ajmal. In two Twenty20 matches against Pakistan, Ashwin has conceded only 44 runs for three wickets. So there is evidence to suggest both raise their game against each other, a traditional barometer of the quality of a cricketer from India or Pakistan.
MS Dhoni v Shahid Afridi. India-Pakistan matches sometimes come down to which of the leaders led a calmer team; others to which leader roused more emotion. It is just the timing and the feel. Pakistan have traditionally enjoyed the emotion in order to bring the best out of them, India have tried to play it down because they believe it allows them to handle games better. India prefer the Dhoni-like match-winning six in the last over, Pakistan the Afridi version.
Team newsIndia haven't given any indication that they will use Ajinkya Rahane, who opens in the IPL, at the top of the innings. In the warm-ups, Rohit Sharma, who bats in the middle order in the IPL, and Shikhar Dhawan have opened. India haven't actually ruled out Rahane as an opener, but India are not known to be flexible with their plans. If Rahane doesn't open, his participation in the match depends on how many bowlers India play. If they can rely on Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma to be the fifth bowler, there could be space for Rahane. Or even Stuart Binny if India want a better batsman than a specialist bowler and still some extra assurance with the ball. Given the dew, a third spinner might be ruled out.
India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt. & wk), 7 Ajinkya Rahane/Stuart Binny/Amit Mishra/Varun Aaron/Mohit Sharma, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Mohammed Shami.
Kamran Akmal has made a strong case for himself as opener with a fifty against New Zealand in the warm-up game. If he does come in, he replaces Ahmed Shehzad and relieves brother Umar of wicketkeeping duties. Shoaib Malik is a good chance, too, for his India-slaying capabilities if nothing else.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Sharjeel Khan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez (capt.), 4 Umar Akmal, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sohaib Maqsood, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Bilawal Bhatti, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Pitch and conditionsDew remains a big concern, but this being a Twenty20 starting at 7.30pm the side batting first will be disadvantaged a little less than otherwise. Expect turn too.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have never beaten India in a World Cup match
- MS Dhoni has never scored an international Twenty20 fifty
Quotes"I feel it has mellowed down to some extent, whatever the reason maybe, you do not see many altercations on the field. But still you see very competitive cricket, which I feel is very important."
MS Dhoni feels the rivalry has lost a lot of its ugliness, and he doesn't mind it
"History does not really bother us. Irrespective of whether it is good or bad, it is history. All days are not great days. You should be ready for the next day."
Mohammad Hafeez is not losing sleep over Pakistan's winless record against India in World Cups
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo