It’s that time of the year/decade/century. The most hyped cricket match in the history of cricket is upon us. Army insignia gloves and tasteless TV spots aside, there is nothing bigger than the prospect of great rivals India and Pakistan locking horns on the biggest stage of cricket – the World Cup. It is on a Sunday. It’s at Manchester. And it’s bang in the middle of the month-long round-robin stage. Since this is being written on the eve of India’s third match – against New Zealand in overcast Nottingham on a day that threatens to be rained out – we will examine the rivalry accordingly.
India and Pakistan have played each other 6 times in World Cups. India have won all 6. In 1992, the year Pakistan won the trophy, India won only two out of its 8 games – against Zimbabwe and against Pakistan at the SCG in Australia. In 1996, Ajay Jadeja smashed Waqar Younis in the famous quarterfinal and Venkatesh Prasad taught Aamir Sohail a lesson. In 1999, they played in Manchester, with India winning by 47 runs. In 2003, Tendulkar played the innings of the tournament. In 2011, Tendulkar played a flawed innings to help India cross the line at Mohali in the semifinal. In 2015, a Virat Kohli century helped India beat Pakistan comfortably. In 2019, they return to the same venue as 1999. Will it be 7 on 7 for India? Or will Pakistan make a mockery of the ICC voodoo that they broke the last time these two faced each other on English soil in that one-sided Champions Trophy final of 2017?
Captain: Virat Kohli
This by no stretch is a done deal for an in-form Indian team. Form was rendered useless at the Oval in 2017 when a modest Pakistan team led by a Fakhar Zaman century demolished a fancied India by 180 runs. Form doesn’t matter when Pakistan play in an ICC tournament. Kohli and his men may be happy with their start to this World Cup, but this is the one they will want. A win here will make India favourites to be one of the first teams to reach the semifinals. It will virtually be a home game for India, too, given the venue. India will be a little unsettled from the loss of in-form opener Shikhar Dhawan to a thumb injury. But perhaps it isn’t so bad that KL Rahul is in the squad, and that Rishabh Pant has been flown in as cover. The toss-up between Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik and Pant at no. 4 should be a no-brainer, but the team management is known to make strange decisions. Jasprit Bumrah will be India’s answer to Mohammed Amir, while Hardik Pandya will be looking to carry on from where he left off that gloomy day at the Oval with his belligerent 76 in a lost cause. Most players in this team are confident, but the soft middle order of Jadhav, Pant/Karthik and Dhoni is yet to be tested. Will the loss of Dhawan also encourage Kohli to play Jadeja as an all-rounder and extra batsman ahead of Kuldeep Yadav?
Rohit, KL Rahul, Kohli, Pant, Dhoni, Jadhav, Hardik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep, Chahal, Bumrah
Captain: Sarfraz Ahmed
It must be the hardest thing in the world to be a fan of the Pakistan cricket team. A horrible Pakistan showed up against West Indies and lost, an awesome Pakistan faced England and won, an unlucky Pakistan had to share points against Sri Lanka and a bit of every Pakistan combined to blow a close chase to Australia. In 4 games, they have again been the most enthralling team to watch, with 2 defeats, 1 win and 1 no-result. That almost makes India a must-win game. One wonders which Pakistan will show up on Sunday. But the way comeback “kids” Wahab Riaz and Amir performed against Australia will gladden fans, which also render Pakistan unpredictable as ever. Even if they lose this, they will have to go on a streak that they did in the 1992 World Cup in the same format. Fortunately, they still have Bangladesh, Afghanistan and a weak South Africa to play. Pakistan’s batting is again more of a problem than the bowling, and they will feel bad for letting the game against Australia slip away despite playing the extra batsman in Asif Ali.
Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Hafeez, Sarfraz, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Hasan Ali, Wahab, Amir, Afridi
India to make it 7 in 7 at World Cups.