AHMEDABAD: Hashtag ‘BoycottIndoPak match’ was trending all day on Friday, the eve of India’s World Cup match against Pakistan at the Narendra Modi Stadium here. Try telling that to the genuine fans of this cricket mad city who are still scrambling for tickets. Try telling that to broadcasters, who will build up the game a few hours before any other contest. Try telling that to hotel owners here who have jacked up room rates. Try telling that to airline companies who have cashed in. Try telling that to the sea of cops guarding the venue and team hotels.
Try telling that to the BCCI, the hosts. A curious musical show prior to the toss, featuring several popular singers from the Hindi film industry, is indicative of the fact that the Indian board and ICC are keen to put on a spectacle. After all, the tournament has, till now, failed to generate excitement for non-India games.
India vs Pakistan World Cup 2023: Will Shubman Gill be fit to play match vs Pakistan?
The main show will be the performance of players from both teams. Man to man, India appear to have greater pedigree. They also have an enviable record in 50-over World Cups, having won all seven contests (1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2015, 2019). Of the last eight matches, India have won six, with one game being rained out. Pakistan’s last win in ODIs vs India came in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final.
The hosts have been more eager to embrace Powerplay urgency than Pakistan, who still rely on the traditional approach of build first, attack later. On flatter pitches, it leaves too much to do for the middle and lower order. India’s batting lineup, despite the ambiguity over Shubman Gill’s availability and apprehensions over a longish tail, has been in top form with all main batters getting tons in the last two months.
The bowling unit leaked runs against Afghanistan in New Delhi. But that surface at Arun Jaitley Stadium was a road. India’s pursuit of 273 in 35 overs was proof. Against Pakistan, India need to decide if they are better off playing on a slow, black-soil pitch, like in the Test here against Australia in March, with the spin-trio of R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, and Ravindra Jadeja. They did a splendid job of skittling out Australia in Chennai for 199. But it becomes a gamble if India field second on a dew laden outfield under lights.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam admitted that when the team trained on Thursday evening, there was dew. Can Mohammad Shami come into the reckoning then? Not if the team management remains under an illusion that Shardul Thakur gives them batting depth. Pakistan will have worries of their own. Skipper Babar Azam was dismissed cheaply against the Netherlands and Sri Lanka, as was Imam-ul-Haq. Shaheen Shah Afridi hasn’t bowled with the nip that he did a few weeks ago.
Their ace in the pack has been wicketkeeper-batter Mohd Rizwan, who has been a revelation with the bat this year at No. 4, averaging 69.90 in 15 matches. Sweeping, pulling, falling, cramping, smiling, Rizwan has been part entertaining, more enterprising.
The ‘Green Shirts’ also discovered a good opener in Abdullah Shafique. Shafique is known more for his red-ball exploits. But, the Sialkot-born 23-year-old responded with a counterattacking 113. Pakistan have been profligate in the field though and their spinners Shadab Khan and Mohd Nawaz have not been as potent as the Indian spinners in the middle overs. That could prove decisive.
Ahmedabad as a venue has seen historic firsts. The city hosted the first ODI in India (vs England in 1981 not in Motera though). Sunil Gavaskar became the first to cross 10000 Test runs vs Pakistan in 1987. Kapil Dev went past Richard Hadlee’s record of 431 Test wickets in 1994 vs Sri Lanka. Sachin Tendulkar scored his first double hundred in Tests in 1999 vs New Zealand. India beat Australia in a World Cup for the first time in 24 years in a pulsating 2011 quarterfinal here.
Can Pakistan script history too? If they do, Babar, who turns 29 on Sunday, will consider it as his greatest birthday present.