It was supposed to happen in 2007 in the West Indies, or we all thought so. After all, who would have given Bangladesh and Ireland a chance against India and Pakistan respectively? But, everyone now knows what transpired and how the much-anticipated Indo-Pak clash was replaced by the one between Bangladesh and Ireland. The shocking exits of India and Pakistan had such far-ranging repercussions that fours year later, the World Cup format had to be tweaked to ensure the two Asian giants progressed safely into the second round. Pity that the tournament had to be ‘fixed’ in such a manner. Yet, nothing can take away the excitement of an Indo-Pak encounter. After all they are meeting for the first time in seven years in the game’s premier tournament.
On paper, India have an incredible record, having beaten their arch rivals in all four battles between the two sides thus far – 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2003. However, that will count for nothing when the teams meet one more time. And a stakes are at an all-time high too, which means the pressure will be that much more intense. This will be the first time the teams are meeting in a semi final scenario, and the winner of this mouth watering clash will only be one step away from glory.
Sachin Tendulkar vs. Umar Gul
Back in 2003, Shoaib Akhtar had (infamously) commented on the eve of the match that he had developed a special delivery to get rid of Tendulkar. Well, whatever he had developed did not work as the Mumbai maestro blasted him as well as Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to every part of Supersport Park, Centurion. This time round, Umar Gul has said that he would be targeting Tendulkar among others. The good thing from Pakistan’s point of view is that, unlike Akhtar, Gul is a far more settled bowler and is in the best form of his life. Even so it is not the best ploy to speak out about your opponents on the eve of the match, as it is only likely to inspire greats to better things. Tendulkar’s knock in 2003 is the best example. There has been evidence of the same even in this World Cup. Yuvraj Singh had pointed out prior to the game against the Aussies that Ricky Ponting wasn’t in the best of form and, although in a losing cause, the outgoing Australian skipper came up with a respectful ton that reinstated his stature as one of the modern greats. It, thus, would be intriguing to see how the battle between Tendulkar and Gul pans out. Whoever outperforms the other will ‘open’ up the door for their side’s victory.
Virender Sehwag vs. Wahab Riaz/ Shoaib Akhtar
There is still a lot of uncertainty over who would partner Gul in the mother of all battles at Mohali. Although most indications point to the fact that Akhtar remains out of favour with the Pakistan team management, with them you just cannot predict. Even at the last moment, Pakistan could change their minds and bring in Akhtar. And so, India should be prepared for any eventuality. In such a scenario, Virender Sehwag is India’s best bet. The swashbuckler does not play the bowler on reputation, but just looks at the delivery and if it is there to be hit, he will give it the full monty. This might work well for India if either Wahab Riaz or Akhtar are chosen. To be fair to the former, he has done better than the speedster Akhtar in the limited opportunities that he has got and is rated very highly as well in the Indian camp. As such, Sehwag shouldn’t take him lightly and get his eye in before making an effort to launch his trademark assault.
Yuvraj Singh vs. Shahid Afridi
Expect this to be the battle of all battles. Yuvraj Singh and Shahid Afridi are two great characters, who are as expressive on the field as much as they are explosive with their respective talents. For a change, Yuvraj’s batting is being pitted against Afridi’s bowling. And why not, after all the latter has been the best and most successful bowler in the tournament so far, which cannot be a fluke. Afridi has been picking up wickets at will in the middle overs, while Yuvraj has been solid for India. The team will look up to him chiefly to keep Afridi at bay during this period. Historically, India haven’t been troubled by spin, but every once in a while comes a spinner who gives India a hard time. For a while, India found even Muralitharan unplayable and then there were times recently when Ajantha Mendis made Indians look like club cricketers. Clearly, the Indian batsmen have seen a lot of Afridi for such an eventuality to occur. But, the fact is that the leggie is now a changed bowler, who is a lot smarter with a number of variations. And thus, Yuvraj’s battle with his assumes greater significance.
Zaheer Khan vs. Pakistan openers
The Indian speedster has been in great form in the tournament. However, most of his wickets have come with the new ball. Against Pakistan, India cannot afford to let the openers get off to a good start. With Munaf Patel not delivering up to expectations, there will be added pressure on Zaheer Khan to strike early. It would be important to do so since both Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez played themselves into form in the quarter finals. It would help if Ravichandran Ashwin delivers the goods from the other end, but like India, Pakistan are also good players of spin and hence it might be a bit too much to except Ashwin to come up with some kind of heroics. Zaheer has been the best bowler in the tournament after Afridi and, being India’s premier bowler as well, the whole country would be looking up to him to deliver the goods.
Harbhajan Singh vs. Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan
It’s about time the turbanator comes to the party. While most of the less fancied spinners have made an impact, Harbhajan has struggled. Thanks to Yuvraj, India haven’t had to suffer much because of Harbhajan’s lack of form. But, against Pakistan it could haunt India if the other Singh doesn’t rise to the occasion. Like Afridi isn’t expected to wreak havoc among the Indian batsmen, the same applies to Yuvraj in spite of their excellent bowling performance in the tournament so far. Harbhajan has to be reminded that he is the main spinner in the team. And while it is good that he has been keeping the runs down, the fact is that he is in the team to take wickets. And as long as he is not doing that, he is not fulfilling his duty at all for the team.