Traditional rivals Pakistan, India ready for Champions Trophy opening clash
EDGBASTON – It is always more than just a match when India and Pakistan clash. As a rivalry, it has had its ups and downs, always interspersed with long periods of barrenness where the two neighbours haven’t played each other. In the last five years, the two have met almost exclusively in ICC events, which makes each of their matches that much more sought after for fans.
While the overall record is tilted towards Pakistan, the more recent one tells a different story.
Since the 2000s, India and Pakistan have played 49 One-Day Internationals, with India winning 24 to Pakistan’s 25. In the current decade, the two have played only nine ODIs of which India has won six to Pakistan’s three.
Narrowing down the timeframe to the past two or three weeks, though, the picture changes again. Pakistan has been in Birmingham for more than two weeks and has got in plenty of practice sessions, getting a good feel of the ground and conditions. India hasn’t yet practiced on the main ground. It trained on the smaller No 1 Nets on Thursday, and rain on Friday meant they couldn’t practice on the bigger Colts Ground either.
Form and fitness permitting, the only selection question India has to wrestle with is what its bowling composition will be. It could go in with its five best bowlers, or drop either a spinner or a pacer and include Hardik Pandya for his all-round skills. Among the batsmen, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Kedar Jadhav should be the first picks.
Pakistan is a more unknown entity this time around, with several relatively newer players, though there is the heft of experience in Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed, the captain. And then people like Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Amir and Babar Azam aren’t exactly new to cricket. Pakistan has already decided their XII, and Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail and Junaid Khan are the ones to miss out. It remains to be seen if Faheem Ashraf, the 23-year-old who smashed 64 not out off 30 balls in the warm-up against Bangladesh, is handed an international debut in such a high-pressure match.
The pitch at Edgbaston didn’t seem to offer too much to bowlers when Australia and New Zealand played. India and Pakistan will play on the same surface, so shouldn’t expect too much different. In the warm-ups and the truncated Australia-New Zealand match, conditions were more batting friendly.
However, the threat of rain is always about. While on the one hand the wetness will make it difficult for bowlers to grip the ball, the cloud cover could offer assistance through the air, even if it wasn’t much in evidence in the last match.
Mohammad Amir v Virat Kohli
Ever since his return to international cricket, Amir has shown glimpses on and off of talent that can make him devastating on his day. He will still be the man Sarfraz turns to for the breakthroughs, and the man relied on to stop the most dangerous batsmen. And they don’t come more dangerous than Kohli, who has mastered the 50-over game like few before him in the format’s history. Against Pakistan in ICC events, he has invariably risen to the occasion. He has often shown his best when under the pump, but then again, Kohli has never led India in a world event before – so how he handles the situation will be interesting to see.
India: Jasprit Bumrah
Quietly, and almost without fanfare, Bumrah has become amongst the best white-ball bowlers in world cricket. His quirky action still poses problems to batsmen, and his ability to unerringly hit the yorker is a constant threat. Bumrah can crank up the pace too, and the bouncer is a genuine weapon in his hands. Called on to often bowl India’s most difficult overs, he has shown calm under stress by keeping an uncluttered mind and clear focus.
Pakistan: Babar Azam
Babar Azam once got Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, to gush that he had a Virat Kohli-like quality about him. Even though his international career is still young, the numbers illustrate why such high expectations might not be misplaced. In 26 ODIs, he has 1322 runs at an astounding average of 55.08 and a strike rate of 90.23. He’s hit five centuries already to go with six fifties, and anyone who goes past 50 almost once every two innings has to have something special about him.
Watch Out For…
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”… there has been nobody in cricket who has personified this more than MS Dhoni. In the beyond-cricket nature of this match, his cool head will be even more invaluable than it already was. If people around him are flustered by events inside or outside, Dhoni can be relied on to not just keep his composure but calm those around him. And when the game becomes more about the mind, then it is generally the one that is the coolest that wins out.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Yuvraj Singh. –ICC