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India vs Pakistan, ICC World Cup 2019: Only weather can neutralise India’s remarkable all-round depth

Virat Kohli’s side can be challenged only if the Pakistan top-order clicks to give their bowlers a chance.

cricket Updated: Jun 16, 2019 09:39 IST
India vs Pakistan,ICC World Cup 2019,Manchester weather
File image of Virat Kohli(AFP)

It’s the hottest ticket in town so it’s a shame the month we call “Flaming June” has become more of an expletive than a reflection of the current temperatures. However, there is nothing like a cricket match between India and Pakistan to create some heat with the stakes as high as ever in a World Cup. (Complete coverage of ICC Cricket World Cup)

I have been to Old Trafford before for the same match and the main feature of the day was the incredible and incessant noise created by the fans of both teams, neither set wishing to be outdone by the other in the enthusiasm stakes. It’s hardly unexceptional, it’s hardly news, but a highly charged atmosphere is guaranteed.

Old Trafford normally produces good pitches designed to give something to bat and ball, though the preparation of this pitch might well have been disrupted by the weather dubbed by ICC as “unseasonal”. I’m sorry, but this is England and we tend to regard our weather the same way as the world sees the Pakistan cricket team—we are never quite sure what to expect day by day.

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If conditions have veered towards the bowlers, and the quicker bowlers in particular, then I have to say India have the stronger attack. I have enjoyed seeing Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz back in the Pakistan team. Both have had their issues over the years; Amir’s rehabilitation has not been entirely straightforward but his five wickets in the previous match are a fillip for him. Wahab is a player who you just like to see give everything on the field and to hear from afterwards (if it’s been a good day) because of the infectious joy he can spread.

However, on current form, Bumrah, Kumar and Pandya (maybe Shami too if conditions on the day merit it) are a potent force, one that could conceivably do match threatening damage bowling first. These 10.30 starts, especially if it is overcast, can encourage captains to go for the early advantage, and one can imagine either side relishing at least some movement off the seam.

BUMRAH VS LEFT-HANDERS

Bumrah for one will fancy the challenge of the two left-handers at the top of the Pakistan order. Imam-ul-Haq looks in touch but Fakhar Zaman is short of runs. That Champions Trophy final hundred two years ago was brilliant but raised expectations that he has not always matched. With his extravagance of shot, Zaman and the rest of us have to accept that risk is part of his game but that when it works it will be worth watching. It is also only a month ago that he was making 138 against England at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, and if he is the sort of man to be inspired by the big occasion then Old Trafford is the place for him.

Babar Azam played a couple of the most beautiful straight drives against Australia, always the mark of a very fine player. But so much rests on his shoulders and those of Mohammad Hafeez, who has belied his 38 years in this tournament so far. If it’s one of those days and these four men fire together it will give Pakistan’s bowlers something to work with, and from then on all things are possible.

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More likely though is that the greater depth in India’s batting and bowling will give them the edge. Not only that, India would appear to have much the better fielding side too.

Pakistan were woeful with the catches that went begging against Australia and India have a fielding coach in R Sridhar who wants his charges to “outfield their opponents in all games”. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff and an obvious ambition for a fielding coach, but one that these days is not as preposterous as it was in the days when the Indian team regarded fielding as an optional extra.

So much of that improvement stems from the example set by the captain. Kohli is not just the best batsman in the world (arguably) but most likely the fittest and is just the most brilliant fielder. His energy levels as captain and fielder might be enough to power small cities. They have worked on the less naturally athletic to improve in this department so that the whole unit now looks sharp. That sort of intensity only helps raise the effectiveness of an already threatening bowling attack.

I am sorry to see Shikhar Dhawan injured. I feel for any player who has just found form like this and in the same breath suffered an injury that keeps them out for a major part of the tournament. I am assuming India’s progress through to the semi-finals will be serene enough and he has a chance to reappear at the glory end of it all. But at least KL Rahul knows what to do in his place at the top of the order.

With Rohit in good form, Kohli being Kohli and the middle order all having contributed something at some stage so far, I see this line up as just too strong. The one thing that might bring the two sides closer will be the weather combined with the pitch. Lively conditions could mean a tighter contest at which stage India’s greater professionalism and depth should still see them through.

First Published: Jun 16, 2019 09:33 IST