Old Trafford, Manchester
June 16, Sunday; 15:00 IST
Live on Star Sports, streaming on Hotstar
The main picture
India versus Pakistan is one of those sporting rivalries that generates plenty of animosity off the pitch, among the rival fans, whereby the result of this one-off match matters more to them than how their team fares in the tournament itself. You won’t hear the end of these cliched statements in the build-up to an India-Pakistan match (particularly with the two teams playing each other rarely these days): “It’s more than a cricket match”, “It’s one match you ‘must’ win”. For the players, therefore, this match is more about how they handle their emotions, more than their skill set and ability.
Given their standing on the points table, Pakistan’s mindset cannot be too different from how a majority of their fans view this match: it’s a must-win. They have a lot more riding on Sunday’s match than their cross-border rival, who hold all the cards too. India have a psychological edge over Pakistan, from years of doing well against them in World Cups, their players have tended to be mentally better-equipped for this fixture and the Virat Kohli-led India are, man to man, the better team on paper too. Pakistan have match-winners too, but too often, they don’t play as a team. They don’t always have three, four or five players performing collectively. The last time Pakistan put in a collective performance, against India, they beat them to a trophy that had been missing from their cabinet.
You can’t say Pakistan’s bowling attack is better or that their batting is better than India’s. Which subsequently means they ought to play well for a majority of the 100 overs to potentially go on and win. The Pakistan team management must be bold with their team selection and be precise, too. Hassan Ali’s bowling made for great viewing at the 2017 Champions Trophy, when he was at his penetrative best and rattled the best in the business, but now he is, perhaps, the weakest link in Pakistan’s bowling attack. He is either bowling full and getting driven in front of square or he is short (and the ball is not climbing high enough) and getting cut and pulled. Less than two years ago, in the same surroundings, he was Sarfaraz Ahmed’s go-to bowler. Whether he can rediscover his mojo and be the spark for Pakistan or if his previous performances force the team management’s hand to replace him in the XI remains to be seen.
Mohammad Amir took five for 30 against Australia and was easily the best bowler from both teams in Taunton on Wednesday. He has rediscovered his ability to swing the ball back into the right-hander and his pace is also up from the bilateral series against England just before the World Cup. In Shikhar Dhawan’s absence, India’s batting line-up is strewn with right-handed batsmen, starting with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul at the top of the order. If Amir can generate lateral movement in the air and off the pitch, he’ll trouble the likes of Rohit, who’ll need no reminding of who he was out to and the manner of his dismissal in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Amir’s spell up front will be crucial because it will set the tone for Pakistan, who’ll still be brooding over the missed opportunity to beat Australia.
The key to Pakistan’s success is their players must win the individual match-ups against their Indian counterparts: Amir vs Rohit, Shadab Khan vs Kohli, Fakhar Zaman vs Jasprit Bumrah, Asif Ali vs Yuzvendra Chahal, Wahab Riaz vs MS Dhoni. This is likely to be the essence of tomorrow’s titanic tussle in front of a packed Old Trafford. This is about putting your best foot forward, embracing the occasion and ensuring your performance is enhanced amid all the disruptive factors.
Weather forecast and pitch report
Much of the focus leading up to the match has been on the weather. Sadly, showers are predicted for Sunday in Manchester, with the day expected to be overcast and cloudy throughout.
The Old Trafford pitch has tended to assist the pacers over the years and it will be no different on Sunday. The batsmen will have to be disciplined and earn their runs and the bowlers must persevere by bowling the right lines and lengths.
India vs Pakistan playing 11
India must find a replacement for the injured Dhawan. Dinesh Karthik or Vijay Shankar might well be the one to slot into the Indian middle order. Dhoni could conceivably move up to No. 4. India, otherwise, are unlikely to tinker with their playing 11 from the win over Australia.
Possible Indian playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 KL Rahul, 4 MS Dhoni (wk), 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Dinesh Karthik, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Kuldeep Yadav
Pakistan, on the other hand, have more than one position to address before naming their final playing 11. Mohammad Hasnain hasn’t featured in the World Cup so far and, being raw and relatively unknown, Pakistan can gamble by bringing him in for Hassan, who has contributed handily with the bat lower down the order but is in the team for his bowling. Shadab Khan might return to the XI as well after being left out in favour of Shaheen Shah Afridi in Taunton on Wednesday. Whether Shadab replaces Shoaib Malik or comes in for a bowler remains to be seen.
Possible Pakistan playing 11: 1 Sarfaraz Ahmed (c & wk), 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Imam-ul-Haq, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Hassan Ali/Mohammad Hasnain, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Shaheeh Shah Afridi
The onus is on Pakistan to raise their collective game and rekindle the spirit of the Champions Trophy final two years ago. They played their best cricket to beat England in their second match of the tournament and will need something similar against a weakened Indian line-up, who, however, have the ammunition and temperament to consolidate their current dominance over Pakistan.