ICC World Cup: India vs. Pakistan - THE MATCH

March 29, 2011

Before previewing Wednesday's semifinal match of the ICC World Cup in Mohali, India, those less familiar with the international sport of cricket must be made aware of the following four facts to truly grasp the magnitude of the occasion:

1.  The ICC World Cup, played every four years, is the most prestigious international cricket competition in  the world.

2. There is no greater or more intense rivalry in any international sporting competition than "THE MATCH" - India versus Pakistan in cricket.

3. Oh yeah, and when THE MATCH is played on Indian or Pakistani soil, the intensity ramps up tenfold.

4. India plays Pakistan on Wednesday in the second World Cup semifinal in the north Indian city of Mohali (not far from the Pakistani border for good measure).

For some in the United States who still need help with this, let's try an example from the not-too-distant past.  Remember the 1980 Olympic Hockey Semifinals when the United States played the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, NY?  Remember the national fervor and the crazy Cold War patriotism of that time?  Only now combine that with an Ali-Frazier like personal rivalry and Super Bowl level hype.

Of course, that is only the beginning.

The Secondary Subplots (for those who know or want to know)

Aside from the aforementioned components that make THE MATCH what it is, there are at least 4 fascinating storylines that will play out on the pitch Wednesday.  In deference to the drama of the event, these are listed in reverse chronological order of importance.

4. Pakistan seeks its 1st World Cup win against India.

Despite the fact that Pakistan historically has defeated India in one day international (ODI) matches approximately 60% of the time, they are 0-4 against them in World Cup matches.  Unlike previous years, this Pakistani team was not expected to do much damage in the World Cup based upon both their recent on-field performance and off-the-field turmoil, including allegations of match-fixing after their recent tour of England.  Nonetheless, Pakistan has defeated India both times the two teams have previously played in Mohali. 

More importantly, Pakistan has played better than any other team in this World Cup to date and have regained their form under Shahid Afridi's captaincy.  A startling victory over Australia ended a 34-match unbeaten streak for the Aussies in World Cup play.  A win over India in the World Cup would undoubtedly make up for years of prior frustration and revitalize Pakistani cricket immeasurably.

3. India seeks to end its perceived history as "chokers" in big matches.

India has always been known to have a solid batting lineup and the current group of batsmen may be its best ever.  Nonetheless, the Indians lone World Cup championship came in 1983.  Indian fans have always watched in disbelief as their perceived "great" batting order almost uniformly collapsed in critical contests.

However, under the cool captaincy of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India appears poised to begin a new history.  Already the top-ranked Test match team in the world, India entered the World Cup ranked #2 in ODIs to Australia.  A gutty victory over the Aussies in the quarterfinals paved the way for India to firmly grasp supremacy in both traditional forms of the game.

2. Shoaib Akhtar's final international competition.

The flashy, cocky, and always entertaining Pakistani fast-bowler will be playing in his final international cricket match at the conclusion of this World Cup.  Once universally regarded as the "fastest bowler in the world" and capable of hitting the 100 mph mark, the 35-year old Akhtar has battled injuries in recent years.

Akhtar's mercurial personality and emotional outbursts have made him one of the most talked-about cricketers of his era.  Many believe he never reached the full promise of his potential.  Nonetheless, Akhtar has been the cornerstone and standard bearer for the last 15 years of Pakistan's great tradition of fast bowlers.  A match-winning performance against India in the World Cup would immortalize Akhtar and allow him to end his career as a national hero like nothing else could.

1. Sachin Tendulkar's final World Cup and his quest for 100 international centuries.

While Tendulkar has not openly expressed plans for retirement, the almost 38-year old legendary batsman will undoubtedly be playing in his final World Cup this year. 

The greatest cricketer of the modern era has God-like status in India and owns nearly every significant batting record in modern cricket.  Currently, Tendulkar has scored 100 runs 99 times in international cricket (nobody else has even 70).   After scoring 100 runs twice already in this year's World Cup, near-hysteria surrounds the possibility of "The Little Master" achieving the his 100th century against Pakistan on Wednesday. 

Yet despite his individual greatness, Tendulkar has yet to lead the Indian team to triumph in five previous trips to the World Cup.  If he is able to lead India to victory over Pakistan on Wednesday, and then again in the final against Sri Lanka in his hometown of Mumbai next week, Tendulkar's storybook career will have a fitting end.

Match Analysis

The Indian team will be under enormous pressure to perform on Wednesday as both the favorites and the hosts of the World Cup.  It is generally believed that whichever team wins the toss will choose to bat and be in the superior position.  To chase a large total of 250 runs or more with so much at stake will be quite a task.

Further, the arrival of rain late Tuesday may also impact the outcome in Mohali.

The Indians will rely heavily on the depth of their batting lineup and opener Virender Sewhag is due for a big total.  If Yuvraj Singh has another star performance, or if captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni finally remembers how to bat, India will be difficult to beat.

Pakistan will seek to take early wickets to put pressure on the Indian batsmen.  Umar Gul will be key with the new ball at the beginning of the innings.  If the Indian top order falls within the first 30 overs, Pakistan will likely close out the tail in short order.

While the focus is typically on either the famed Pakistani bowling or the vaunted Indian batting, both sides will need top performances in the other part of the game.  I suspect Shahid Afridi is ripe to put up a big score for Pakistan while Zaheer Khan should be the staple for the Indian bowlers.

Prediction

In the end, one would have to believe that India wins this one in a close contest for the ages.


Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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