India-Pak: The battle within

There is a saying “the show is not over till the fat lady sings.”  In the same manner at a cricket event, the show does not begin till India take on arch-rivals Pakistan. 

It is the day millions of cricket fans worldwide have been waiting for. Indian skipper Virat Kohli may term today’s T20 World Cup contest at Dubai Stadium as “just another cricket match,” but the fact remains it excites the supporters of both teams like no other event and passions run pretty high, both inside the stadium and on the streets. 

If that’s not enough, it’s a virtual battle on so-called social media, much bitter than on-field action. The players know that they have to shut out all distractions and concentrate on the game. But it’s easier said than done.

‘Focus on cricket’

Kohli during the pre-match virtual media interaction said: “We cannot cut off [the hype] completely. There is huge atmosphere in the stadium and there is pressure like in every other game. But as professionals, we know we have to focus on cricket. Our mindset and approach are no different [from other games].”   

Also Read: Sourav Ganguly on Virat Kohli relinquishing T20 captaincy: Was his individual decision, no pressure from BCCI

Undoubtedly, history and form are with India, who have never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup game across T20 and 50-over formats. Talking about T20 games in general, India have lost just one of the nine matches between the two, of all places in Bangalore during a bilateral series in 2013. 

Barring that aberration, India have always dominated their rivals, though there have been a couple of close finishes, including the 2007 final in Johannesburg when India won the inaugural and their only T20 World title under current team mentor Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

The Men in Blue are pretty cocky whenever up against the green brigade. But Pakistan captain Babar Azam, who is in top form with two T20 centuries this year, believes his team can break the World Cup jinx. “Definitely, we can [break the jinx] as we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said when asked about Pakistan’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes. “These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all departments.”

Keeping things simple is not easy. The Indian camp know that in a high-profile game, things can change in a matter of minutes, like it happened in the 2017 Champions Trophy final at The Oval, London where for once Pakistan overwhelmed India in an ICC event, thanks to a brilliant opening spell by Mohammed Amir.  

Questions galore

Going into the match, there are questions galore about India’s XI. Will they include off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya, who still has fitness issues. 
Will it be Suryakumar Yadav or Ishan Kishan at No.4? And, will India have Shardul Thakur as the sixth bowling option or go with an additional batsman? 

Kohli kept his cards close to his chest and said: “I am not going to reveal the combination here, but I can say that we have a balanced team and we are confident about execution of our plans in the middle. We have assigned specific roles to the players, so there is role-
clarity for each player.”   

Virat Kohli has been India’s top run-getter in the last two T20 World Cups, scoring 319 runs in the 2014 edition and 273 in 2016

Did you know?
Virat Kohli has always stayed unbeaten in T20 World Cup matches v Pakistan. His scores are: 78*, 36* and 55*

Injury concerns?
Indian opener KL Rahul had a minor back issue during the second warm-up match against Australia. However, it didn’t look serious as he batted without any discomfort

Pak fit and fine
Pakistan have not reported any injury concerns among the 12 players selected for their first match. Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohd Wasim and Mohd Nawaz have been left out for the opening fixture

Also Read: T20 World Cup: `India have serious match-winners,` says Steve Smith

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