It took the International Cricket Council four editions of the World Cup to realise the potential of an India-Pakistan match. And every time starting with 1992, the fierce rivals have faced each other in the tournament except in 2007, when the mouthwatering prospect of a clash between the Titans was reduced to Bangladesh facing Ireland following two massive upsets in two days at the group stage.
The intensity of the cricketing ties between the teams have been influenced by cross-border tensions. The level of anticipation around their meetings has only gone up, now that India and Pakistan face off only at ICC or intra-continental events. The limited supply has increased the demand and scope of this match manifold.
Every player knows it and it came as no surprise that jokes and banter among the players was conspicuous by its absence at the training sessions of the two teams at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
As the batsmen headed for the nets, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni went straight to the indoor training facility where he had a long knocking session against the bowling machine. Searching for his batting form, he came out later to the nets outside the ground and batted some more.
In fact, he batted a lot more against the net bowlers. The Indian bowlers went about their session in the main ground adjacent to the match wicket.
Virat Kohli looked in sparkling touch, except on two occasions when he immediately realised he had gone too far and cursed himself. In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, who was a part of all five World Cup victories over Pakistan, collecting three Man-of-the-Match awards, the top order batting is heavily dependent on the form of India’s new Test skipper.
India will breathe a sigh of relief if Virat, who was in stupendous form in the five-day matches but then had a quiet one-day series, gets back among runs. Hopefully, the spa and meditation sessions here would have helped rejuvenate him. After all, of his 21 ODI centuries, 19 have resulted in victories.
The other man on whom a lot depends is Rohit Sharma. He has failed to live up to his talent time and again but on occasions he has delivered, India have thrived and enjoyed the experience. The only man to score two one-day double hundreds has been erratic. He has come back from injury and scored 150, although against Afghanistan in the warm-up. Shikhar Dhawan’s dodgy form though remains a concern. Team director Ravi Shastri felt the left and right opening combination will be favoured while picking the 11.
“Kal dhang se khelna, izzat ka sawal hai” (play properly tomorrow, it’s a matter of pride), a middle-aged Indian supporter shouted to Virat as he was leaving the training area. He has come from India and will follow the team till Perth. He is part of a huge group of travelling fans who have landed Down Under for the spectacle.
South Australia authorities were quick to realise the windfall a match like this can bring to the state. So, instead of bidding to host an Australia match in the group stages, they gambled on the sub-continental derby. They have no regrets about the decision yet.
The Fringe Festival, a month-long event that features artists from across the world which kicked off on Saturday, has livened up the streets of the city. The Super Sunday of world cricket promises to be the icing on that festive mood.
Time perfect to stoke old rivalry
A certain amount of desperation has crept into the India side. The defending champions face Pakistan on the back of just three losses in competitive one-day games if one discounts the two warm-up games against Australia and Afghanistan.
But what the scheduling of the tri-series and the preceding Test series in Australia has done is stretched the period between India’s blanking of Sri Lanka in the ODI series at home and their first match of the World Cup to over two-and-a-half months.
The long gap, which neither the fans nor Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys are used to given the amount of cricket India play, has caused certain craving among the India players to rediscover the victory feeling.
India have in the past gone through much longer winless streaks in the limited-over format. But somehow because of the disjointed appearance of the team this time, people back home are pinning their hopes on India winning three of their matches against unfancied Zimbabwe, Ireland and the UAE, which they are confident will be good enough for a quarterfinal berth.
Sunday’s result in India’s favour could change all that pessimism. And maybe it was playing on Dhoni’s mind when he termed the timing of this match as perfect. “It’s one of the most prized games in ODIs. Overall, I think it’s a perfect scenario to start the tournament with,” he said.
If they win, it could completely change the dynamics of the team. They can once again believe in themselves and instantly regain the position where fans expect them to emerge winners in every single match they play.