India pin hopes on batsmen, Pakistan on bowlers (Roundup)

March 29th, 2011 - 9:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Shoaib Akhtar Mohali, March 29 (IANS) If history can infuse confidence in a team, then India can take heart from their unbeaten run in the World Cup against Pakistan. Neither captain referred to the past while exuding confidence on the eve of their semifinal game.

Going by the performances in the run-up to the high-intensity clash, it will be a battle between India’s high powered batting line-up and the skilfully potent bowling of the Pakistanis at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium Wednesday.

India were voted the favourites by an overwhelming majority of fans and experts and soothsayers handed the cup to Mahendra Singh Dhoni long before the first ball was bowled in the competition.

Somewhere down the line, they all realised it is not going to be smooth sailing, seeing the odds-on favourites getting stretched by Bangladesh, struggling to tie with England and eventually losing to South Africa at the group stage.

The hysteria was back the moment India beat Australia in the quarterfinals. It is now at a crescendo.

The build-up has been intense and to cap it all, the prime ministers of the two nations are going to witness the game from the presidential box of the beautiful stadium.

Both sides have their own viewpoints on the much-awaited match. The Indians think they have their best chance of winning the Cup a second time, having won it in 1983. The Pakistanis, who won in 1992 under Imran Khan, want to tell the cricket world that their country deserves international cricket at home.

Both captains tried to play down the pressure factor on the eve of the match. India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni insisted that his team is aware what is expected out of it — playing good cricket — while his counterpart Shahid Afridi was equally vehement in saying that they were not expected to come so far and so there was no pressure on them.

The two teams won their quarterfinals in contrasting styles. India fought hard against Australia while the Pakistanis cantered to an easy victory against the West Indies.

The first thing the Indians have to address is their inexplicable batting collapse in three matches, losing nine wickets for 29 runs against South Africa being the worst.

Tendulkar (379), Sehwag (342) and Yuvraj (341) and Gambhir (269) are among the top ten scorers in the competition and they have been the mainstay of the batting, but the middle and lower order batsmen need to show consistency.

The last time Tendulkar played here against Pakistan he fell on 99, but this time, the crowd is expecting the great man to reach his 100th international century.

Yuvraj’s performance has stood out in the brittle middle-order. Against Australia, it was he who held the innings together and with Suresh Raina, took the side to victory. Having received four Man-of-the-Match awards for his all-round performance, the local boy is a big hit at home.

In the bowling department, Dhoni will be relying on his chief pace exponent Zaheer Khan, who is the second highest wicket-taker in the current competition with 17 wickets, four short of Afridi’s 21. Yuvraj also picked up 11 wickets with his left-arm spin.

But it is to be seen whether, Dhoni makes any change to the side that beat defending champions Australia in the quarters. Ashish Nehra could come in place of an erratic Munaf Patel, but Dhoni is a big backer of the Baroda pacer for his line and length.

Afridi realises what it means to win the Cup.

In the last two years, Pakistan cricket has gone through hell. They were ostracised by the international cricket community in the wake of Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 and then were dropped as World Cup co-hosts. The banning of their three cricketers — Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer — on charges of spot-fixing last year plunged Pakistan cricket into a deeper crisis.

Afridi is still keeping his cards close to his chest. He would not reveal whether he is thinking of playing fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who will retire after the World Cup, so that he could renew his rivalry with Tendulkar one last time.

Pakistan, however, have enough firepower in their attack to trouble the famed Indian batting. Fast bowler Umar Gul, who has 11 wickets,has led the pace attack with distinction. With the Mohali wicket known to aid fast bowlers, Gul could be the bowler to watch out for.

But it will be Afridi’s leg-spin that needs careful watching. With offie Mohammad Hafeez and left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, Afridi will form a formidable trio of spinners.

Squads:

India: M.S. Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag,
Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh,
Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan,
Suresh Raina, S.Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh.

Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (captain), Misbah-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur
Rehman, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal
(wicketkeeper), Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar
Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan.

Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Ian Gould (England)
Third umpire: Billy Bowden (New Zealand)
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)

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