POOL B | Sunday 15 February | Adelaide | 05:30
Subcontinental arch-rivals India and Pakistan renew their fierce rivalry in Adelaide on Sunday. This encounter is set to break the record for the most watched cricket match in history with estimates of over a billion viewers, beating the 2011 World Cup semi-final between the same nations. In fact, the match has already been sold out for the better part of six months. India hold the advantage of never having lost a World Cup fixture with Pakistan, winning all five of the previous contests. However, neither side have looked convincing of late and this could well go down to the wire.
To Win Match
The defending World Cup champions managed to pick up their first win in Australia since arriving Down Under in late November. By the time this tournament is over, India would’ve been in the country for almost four months. While one would expect that this type of preparation would benefit a team looking to come to terms with foreign conditions, it may simply serve to exhaust them and drive down morale. The win came against Afghanistan in a World Cup warm-up, not considered a fully fledged ODI. Rohit Sharma waltzed to 150 with good contributions from Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane but shouldn’t Sharma have been retired much earlier to give the likes of MS Dhoni, Ravi Jadeja and Ambati Rayudu much needed time at the crease?
Shikhar Dhawan’s truly awful run since arriving in Australia has put the opener in the spotlight. A definite weakness outside of the off stump will be tested thoroughly during the tournament. Perhaps worst of all, India shelled a variety of simple catches in their win over Afghanistan, putting into question their commitment to the cause of improvement. Simply put, they already look jaded and the tournament is yet to begin. Rohit Sharma will be key to India’s success, his ability to amass huge hundreds important if his team are to succeed. Their tail is probably too long and if the top order fails, they don’t have a bowling attack capable of dismissing stiff opposition cheaply. Ishant Sharma is injured and will miss the World Cup, Mohit Sharma drafted in to replace his fellow paceman. Despite their troubles, India have a habit of rising to the occasion and cannot be discounted.
Five wickets from Mohammad Irfan and a well-timed 93 from Sohaib Maqsood helped Pakistan edge Bangladesh in their World Cup warm-up match. After losing openers Ahmed Shehzad and Sarfraz Ahmed cheaply, Pakistan’s middle-order coupled with a typical Shahid Afridi cameo took them over the line. They will be pleased by the form of Irfan, whose pace and bounce will be difficult to handle in Australian conditions. However, Pakistan have suffered some injury setbacks and will arrive at the tournament short of their best team. Hafeez has been ruled out with a calf injury and has been replaced by Nasir Jamshed, but the latter cannot pick up Hafeez’s missing overs. Junaid Khan’s injury has also depleted their pace attack, while Saeed Ajmal continues his spell in cricket’s wilderness. His action has now been cleared by the ICC but he is unlikely to earn a spot in the World Cup unless another injury strikes. Ajmal has not been drafted in as Pakistan are unsure whether he will have the same impact with his new action. With a lack of match practice, Ajmal would be nothing more than speculative gamble.
Adelaide Oval has the honour of hosting one of biggest matches in cricket history. Recent ODI scorecards suggest that batting won’t be easy and that the pace bowlers will have the advantage, though batsmen can thrive if prepared to weather the storm. Surprisingly, India won on their last visit to Adelaide, chasing down Australia’s 269. Pakistan were beaten convincingly here in 2010. No rain is predicted, with warm conditions likely to prevail.
VERDICT: India 5/10
Pakistan looked rather flat against Bangladesh and while warm-up fixtures are a poor barometer of tournament form, history is also against cricket’s nomads. There is not much about the Pakistani side that inspires confidence and I expect India’s tournament pedigree to shine through. India are tipped to make it six wins from six matches against Pakistan in World Cup competition.