Super Sunday Unfolds
As India head into super sunday, to play Pakistan, they have most probably gone inside a bubble to escape all the media pressure that accompanies an India Pakistan game. Under MS Dhoni, India have usually kept their nerve for such contests, trying to isolate themselves from the adrenalin rush and frenzy that accompanies a contest between these two nations. Pakistan on the other hand, have little spotlight on them, more so because of a weakened side without Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan. Despite the pressure of not winning a single game against India in this format, the lesser spotlight on Pakistan might help them quietly regroup for this game. They have a reasonably calm captain in Misbah-ul-Haq, who’s the calming influence along with Younis Khan in a side full of hot blooded youngsters like Ahmad Shahzad, Umar Akmal and Shoaib Maqsood. But the last few days, Pakistan’s been trying to make extra efforts to concentrate harder at the task at hand. For an undeniably talented side, Pakistan’s fear is that the wheels don’t come off, rather than if they would be driving fast in 4th gear. They’ve made an announcement that there would be a curfew on players using social media. They’ve made public an announcement that 8 of their team members were staying late and that they were disciplined. What’s shown as strict discipline to the outside world, is actually eating into Pakistan’s sense of calm with lesser spotlight, that may actually help Pakistan take the monkey off their back, which is in winning a 50 over world cup match against India
In a strange manner the teams are back to where it all started, in Australia. That was the last time an India Pakistan match’s result had little bearing on the next step in the tournament. In 1992, it was Pakistan and India’s 4th game, with 4 more to go. In 1996 and 2011, the games were knockout games, while in 1999 and 2003, we were in a pre knockout game, where the performance in the game could close the lid on one of the teams. So that way, with this being the opening game for both teams, they are not going to be under as much as pressure, as some of the earlier world cups. But for fans, as always, the intensity of the clash will always assume epic proportions, given the history associated with the game. While fans acknowledge that the intensity levels of Sharjah in the 90’s are not there, and there are very few players who willingly are volatile with their emotions.
Soaking In History
Even as we speak about the intensity going down, the pressure still remains and lets have a brief peek into the history of these world cup contests. Pakistan have often succumbed to it with their batting in 1996,1999 and 2011. The only time their bowling alone succumbed to it was in the high scoring Centurion clash of 2003, where Pakistan insisted on pre match talk targeting Tendulkar and in the space of 3 consecutive balls that Shoaib Akhtar bowled to Sachin, all of Pakistan’s masked bravado melted like butter in the sun. The first shot conveyed the aggression that a bouncer is the last thing that was going to trouble him. The next was an effortless flick to deep square leg, all done with a little wrist movement to counter the 140 km thunderbolt from the bowler,which showed that Sachin was not allowing the aggression to get to his head, and was extremely relaxed with getting back to just using the pace of the ball, and dismissed the ball from his presence. This was now getting to being a game of poker, and Shoaib Akhtar’s aggression was one ball away from pressing the panic mode, and when the third thunderbolt landed as a full ball, Tendulkar just offered his bat down, with a saintly and meditative pace of response. The back lift was not there, Shoaib probably thought Sachin wanted to defend, until the moment the leather was to touch the MRF toned wood. The moment it touched, Shoaib knew that it was struck right in the middle of the bat, and the ball was most probably going to keep its date with the boundary line. There was an old-world romance associated with that shot, the sound of wood on leather, it was divine, it was pleasurable, it was frankly better than the big O moments that we reserve our moans for. Thats how much that shot made an impact. Thrice in three balls, Pakistan’s mask fell, and it took them a while to recover. In the days of 2003, back then a cricket contest was still about bat and ball, unlike the greed associated these days with over sized bats and regulations in favour of batting.
The 2011 game, was when their batting, bowling and fielding came apart like a road trip with weak tyres and no fuel. Adding the political context to the game, there was immense pressure and it showed in the 4 dropped catches against Sachin, and a 22 run 2nd over that jolted a surprisingly calm Afridi, who is known to succumb to volatile shows of emotion. His best bowler was taken to shreds by a batsman (Virender Sehwag) who made it a habit to hit a boundary of the first ball he faced in most of the matches in the 2011 WC.It was Pakistan playing against itself. India were just watching. When it was India’s turn to bowl, it was aided by some ordinary shot selection and brain fades that Pakistan succumbed to.
Come the 15th of February, we will be seeing sides that are work in progress, average in abroad conditions and each believing that they are inoculated from the pressure by the little mask that they profess to wearing in the press conferences. Both sides will look at their inexperienced arsenal to man up on the day, when 2 nations come to standstill. With recent form against each other I back Pakistan to find their mental reserves to perform, but the pressure of crossing the finish line in a world cup could be their flat tire on their road to victory
Positives to expect
- Shikhar Dhawan’s welcome return to form
- Rohit Sharma’s recent ODI form
- Mohamad Irfan’s bounce due to his height
- Misbah Ul Haq and Umar Akmal’s cheese and chalk combination
Things to worry
- Captain Dhoni and Virat kohli’s form
- Pakistan’s opening combination and Younus Khan
- India’s bowling. Spin or pace or part timers. Feels like gloomy weather.
Shahid Afridi- The only umbilical cord to the 90’s intensity, in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar.