Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cricket World Cup 2015 Match Preview - India Vs Pakistan

India Vs Pakistan - Adelaide Oval, 15th February 2015

Every Cricket fan across the country marked out February 15 2015 with a 'Big Red Cross' on the calendar as soon as the fixtures of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 were announced. Not that a mark was needed for the Big Clash to be remembered but no one really wanted to take a chance. Top executives heaved a sigh of relief as the match was slated to take place on Sunday and the school children rejoiced as there would now be no need to fake a stomachache, a headache or feign death of a non-existing-far-away-relative!!

The last time these two met in the World Cup 
in a mouth watering semi final clash in 2011 in Mohali.
India won by 29 runs on that balmy night.

Coming to the cricket let me review this match which will set the tone for both the Asian Giants as to how their World Cup pans out.

India has been woeful since they have landed in Australia and have just won a warm up game against Afghanistan. Even in that match the severity of the weak Indian bowling was laid bare for all to see as they could not bowl out Afghanistan in 50 overs. On a positive note Rohit Sharma has looked in fine form recently and he will hold the key to India's fortunes vs Pakistan. Rahane has continued to impress me and I believe that he is the best Indian batsmen currently who can adapt to any condition and is adept at pacing his innings to a nicety. Kohli has struggled for runs since the ODI's began down under and his wretched form continued in both the warm up games as well. Raina and Dhoni have also been scratchy and India will hope that the troika of Kohli, Raina and Dhoni will stand up and deliver once the crunch game begins.

Indian bowling continues to cut a sorry figure and they look lost and utterly helpless at what is to be done out in the middle. Umesh Yadav has been good in patches but continues to serve freebies once or twice every over thus relieving the pressure. Shami and Bhuvaneshwar, two bowlers who began so well in international cricket, have also looked bereft of ideas and skills recently. Spin fares no better as R Ashwin is more a mystery to me as to how he gets selected each time despite mediocre performances and Jadeja is coming off an injury. Akshar Patel has looked good in some of the games that he has been a part of and I think that he must be played by India. Stuart Binny is another player who I think can deliver for India both with the bat and the ball.

Pakistan batting will be led by their aging star Misbah while Younis Khan has also almost always relished the Indian bowling. Ahmed Shehzad is the explosive opener and has been in decent form lately, Pakistan will be hoping that he can lay down a solid platform at the top of the order. Hafeez has been ruled out with an injury and Nasir Jamshed has been drafted in his place though I believe that Pakistan must open with their wicket-keeper batsman Sarfaraz as he comes across as a man with intent and keeps the scoreboard ticking. Haris Sohail and Shoaib Maqsood are the two rookies who are also very talented and I am looking forward to seeing them in this World Cup. Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi lurk down the order and it will be important for the Indians not to let these dangerous batsmen get their eye in else they can take the match away in a matter of a few overs.

In a big surprise, the Pakistan bowling also lacks the bite and spice this time around. Junaid Khan is ruled out injured and their spin talisman Saeed Ajmal (who was banned from bowling for chucking) was cleared to bowl after the squad was already announced. There is no Gul either. The onus of providing the breakthroughs will rest on the tall Irfan who is certain to trouble the Indians with the extra bounce that he generates. Wahab Riaz is a sharp operator but can be erratic at times. I have not seen much of Rahat Ali, Ehsan Adil and Sohail Khan so can't comment on them but Pakistani's have a habit of producing quality fast bowlers so it will not be a huge surprise if any of these little known names become household stars in this match. Yasir Shah and Afridi will be the spin options and both are good. There is the option of Haris Sohail as well who can be a pretty useful part timer.

Key Battles: India vs Pakistan

Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli vs Mohammed Irfan

Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi vs R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja

As this will the first match for the teams, the match will be more important as it may well set the tone for their upcoming matches. A winning start over the arch rivals will give so much confidence ahead of the long tournament. Plus a huge pressure match will be over and done with early on so that they can concentrate on the future games. A lot of these India-Pakistan games are not necessarily decided by the execution of skills but the handling of pressure in the big moments. The fans will fondly remember the pyrotechnics of Aamir Sohail-Venkatesh Prasad in the 1996 encounter, the class of Sachin in the 2003 clash and the humdinger in Mohali in the semi-finals from 2011. All in all we are in store for a cracker of a match between these two old foes.

Battle Lines have been drawn, War Cries have been bellowed, Mind Games have already begun... Now the fans are waiting for the Umpire to shout 'Lets Play Gentlemen!'

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