Familiar foes in familiar battleground, with stakes high as ever

Match facts

India vs Pakistan, Group B
Venue: Edgbaston, Birmingham
Date and time: June 4, 10:30 AM local and 3:00 PM IST

The main picture

Stakes cannot be higher whenever India and Pakistan face off. The players can ill afford to fail, largely because the two sets of fans will be all pumped up, egging on their players and even hurling abuse when a player misfields, drops a catch or gets out without contributing, and the entire cricketing fraternity usually gets a taste of what cricket means to these two nations. Come Sunday (June 4), none of these should be different and though an India-Pakistan clash doesn’t quite feel as it used to during the 1990s and early 2000s, the objective of everyone involved is still the same.

These two familiar foes haven’t played a bilateral series for close to five years now and have met just three times since Pakistan toured India for a limited-overs series in December 2012. Each of those three meetings has come at neutral venues and needless to say, in ICC tournaments and Asia Cup. The two teams have players who know each other well and have been part of the previous match-ups—MS Dhoni, Shoaib Malik, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hafeez, and Junaid Khan have been part of recent India vs Pakistan ties—but also have a fair share of new faces in their ranks.

Since their last meeting, which came at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, India and Pakistan have undergone significant changes. India now have a new ODI skipper, a vastly different bowling attack and an exciting crop of players all the same. Pakistan too have a new ODI skipper (Sarfraz Ahmed), lost their two stalwarts (Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan) to retirements and welcomed back the previously suspended Mohammad Amir. Babar Azam, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, among others, have made their ODI debuts in the last two years. Azam is the only Pakistani batsman in the top 10 of the ICC ODI batting rankings.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s clash, India can no longer be deemed as batting-heavy or a great batting unit. They are over-reliant on Virat Kohli and beyond whom you only have Rohit Sharma, who has been a successful one-day batsman lately. But the Mumbai batsman didn’t have a good IPL 2017 with the bat and the rest of India’s batsmen, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav, will also look to find form only on Sunday. Dinesh Karthik made a case for himself with an unbeaten 94 in the second warm-up match against Bangladesh and is in contention for a place in the Indian playing XI against Pakistan.

For probably the first time in their history, India’s bowling is a lot stronger than their batting. They have a well-rounded bowling attack which is not incapable of running through batting line-ups. However, as is the case for all the teams, the Indian team management need to get the balance of their XI right. India don’t just have quality bowlers up their sleeve but their squad also has all-rounders who provide the captain and the think-tank “a welcome problem”.

Pakistan’s strength has always been their bowling and if Sarfraz Ahmed and co. have to enter the semi-finals, then their pace quartet of Amir, Riaz, Junaid Khan, and Hasan Ali ought to deliver the goods, starting with the clash against India on Sunday. And no reason why the Pakistani bowlers, with their pace and ability to move the ball both ways, cannot unsettle the batting line-ups of India, Srilanka and South Africa. The Edgbaston, in particular, is the venue where bowlers can be expected to thrive over the course of this Champions Trophy.

In the batting department, Pakistan will look up to their senior pros like Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik to hold the innings together. Azam, who has been in scintillating form over the last eight months during which five centuries (120, 123, 117, 100, and 125*) and one half-century (84) have come from his blade, will arguably be the most vital component of the Pakistani batting line-up.

On the field, expect the Indian and Pakistani players to play in the right spirit of the sport while not failing to be competitive.

India vs Pakistan head-to-head in ODI

The Men in Blue and Men in Green have faced each other 132 times in ODIs and Pakistan are way ahead of India, with 72 victories. India have won just 51 and nine other meetings have not had results.

Since March 2004, when cricketing ties between these two arch rivals resumed after a five-year gap, India have staggeringly won 22 ODIs to Pakistan’s 20 in 42 meetings.

India vs Pakistan’s head-to-head record in ICC Champions Trophy stands at Pakistan 2-1 India. Pakistan beat India in the 2004 and 2009 editions, at Edgbaston and Supersport Park respectively, before India registered their first-ever victory over arch-rivals Pakistan in this competition by eight wickets (D/L method) in the 2013 installment.

Group B match: Probable playing XIs for India and Pakistan

Team news

India have a handful of selection decisions to make. Rohit Sharma is likely to partner Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order, despite being dismissed for a three-ball duck in the only practice match he played after arriving late in England, against Bangladesh. The other concern in the Indian batting line-up is the match fitness of Yuvraj Singh, who will not have played competitive cricket for more than a fortnight. If he has recovered completely from viral fever, he might well play ahead of Dinesh Karthik in the Indian middle order.

In the bowling department, Kohli and the team management have options aplenty. They can play all four quicks and field just one spinner (Ravindra Jadeja), or be more conventional and play three quicks and two bowling all-rounders. Jadeja is an automatic choice, but the think-tank will have to decide who among Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya plays on Sunday.

India’s likely playing XI vs Pakistan: 1. Virat Kohli (C), 2. Rohit Sharma, 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Yuvraj Singh, 5. MS Dhoni (WK), 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Ravindra Jadeja, 8. Ravichandran Ashwin, 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10. Mohammed Shami, and 11. Umesh Yadav/Jasprit Bumrah

India’s actual playing XI: 1. Virat Kohli (C), 2. Rohit Sharma, 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Yuvraj Singh, 5. MS Dhoni (WK), 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Ravindra Jadeja, 8. Hardik Pandya, 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10. Umesh Yadav, and 11. Jasprit Bumrah

Pakistan are quite settled compared to India, though they too have to make the right choices. Like Bangladesh found out against England in the opening match of Champions Trophy 2017, Pakistan will not want to have a one-dimensional bowling attack. Therefore, I fancy their playing one right-arm pacer to complement two left-arm quicks. Expect Hasan Ali to play alongside Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, who must play ahead of Junaid Khan because he is a better batsman. Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim are likely to be the fourth and fifth bowling options.

Pakistan’s batting line-up picks itself, with Haris Sohail, who has replaced Umar Akmal in the original Champions Trophy squad, potentially slotting in at No. 5.

Pakistan’s likely playing XI against India: 1. Sarfraz Ahmed (C and WK), 2. Ahmed Shehzad, 3. Mohammad Hafeez, 4. Babar Azam, 5. Shoaib Malik, 6. Haris Sohail, 7. Imad Wasim, 8. Wahab Riaz, 9. Mohammad Amir, 10. Hasan Ali, and 11. Shadab Khan

Pakistan’s actual playing XI: 1. Sarfraz Ahmed (C and WK), 2. Ahmed Shehzad, 3. Mohammad Hafeez, 4. Babar Azam, 5. Shoaib Malik, 6. Azhar Ali, 7. Imad Wasim, 8. Wahab Riaz, 9. Mohammad Amir, 10. Hasan Ali, and 11. Shadab Khan

Prediction

India are one of the favourites to win the tournament, let alone Sunday’s clash against Pakistan. But Pakistan can harness this lack of expectation and really come hard at India, many of whose batsmen have come into this tournament with very little runs under their belt. I see this as a match-up between India’s batting against Pakistan’s bowling. Yes, India now are a complete side, but if the batting line-up doesn’t come good, the Men in Blue will struggle to achieve the desired result. For Pakistan to compete, bowling first will be the more favourable option because their bowlers can then utilise the early morning freshness and strike early. From the neutral’s perspective too, Pakistan bowling first will be the ideal scenario.




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