The defending champions, desperate to bounce back after a miserable few months, face arch-rivals Pakistan in a high-voltage World Cup match in Adelaide.
Big Picture — Misbah-ul-Haq must have lost count of the number of times he has been asked to comment on Pakistan’s 0-5 record against India in World Cup matches. Almost every time, he politely says that history can change at any point in time, and every occasion is a chance to do that. MS Dhoni was also asked how much of an advantage it is to enjoy such a record. Dhoni’s reply was typical, “The only thing that matters is you have to answer a lot of questions regarding that. Apart from that, it doesn’t really matter.”
Not only that, it can be argued that this might be Pakistan’s best chance to end all questions. India seem to have been in Australia forever by now, and they are yet to win a single match, not counting the warm-up victory over Afghanistan. And after those fruitless months across formats, they run into their biggest rivals in their opening game of the World Cup. Pakistan sides usually sense and seize opportunity, and this seems to be as wide open a window for them as any.
With warm-up game wins over Bangladesh and England, they also seem to have made good use of whatever time they have had in these conditions before the tournament, although they began with a couple of heavy defeats in New Zealand.
India, on the other hand, were flattened by a Glenn Maxwell blitz at Adelaide Oval in their warm-up against Australia, and then their bowlers could not dismiss Afghanistan over 50 overs.
In their defence, though, they seem to rediscover their touch in ICC tournaments under the guidance of Dhoni, which is what probably evens the scales here. Otherwise, an Indian team winless on the road outside Asia for three months and going straight into a world tournament against Pakistan… that does not sound promising if you are an Indian fan, but Dhoni and his men have faced greater odds before, albeit off-field ones, and gone on to win the Champions Trophy in 2013.
Form guide (last five matches, most recent first): India: LLLWW | Pakistan: LLLLW
In the spotlight — India’s fast bowlers are usually a much criticised lot, and a lengthy workload in Australia has already caused Ishant Sharma’s exit from the World Cup. They have even tried outStuart Binny as a new-ball bowler in the triangular series, and have kept Dhawal Kulkarni as the 16th member of the squad, in case Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ankle troubles persist. Amid all their issues, Dhoni has demanded more discipline from them in the first ten overs, saying that they need to avoid giving too many boundary balls. India’s bowling has actually held up quite well against Pakistan in World Cup matches, and it will be a tough act to follow for this group.
Mohammad Irfan and his height have been in India’s sights during their practice sessions, which have seen support staff standing on stools to give the batsmen throwdowns. Irfan took five wickets against Bangladesh five days ago, and with their lower middle order batting not in the best touch of late, India will be keen to not lose too many too soon against the fast bowler. It becomes too much of a catch-up act for the following batsmen, Dhoni has said before.
Team news — Bhuvneshwar has had a quite light workload in practice sessions, suggesting India might want to give him more time to feel his way back, although Dhoni said there were no injury concerns. Axar Patel is unlikely to play, as India feel Ravindra Jadeja’s experience is crucial. India stuck to Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as the opening combination in the warm-ups, and hadVirat Kohli at No. 3. Depending on how much batting cover they feel they need down the order, it could be a toss-up between Stuart Binny and Mohit Sharma.
India: (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Stuart Binny/Mohit Sharma, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Umesh Yadav
Sarfraz Ahmed did not click in New Zealand, and Umar Akmal kept wicket in both the warm-ups. That allows Pakistan to play an extra batsman, with Haris Sohail available to send down the bulk of the fifth bowler’s overs. Despite impressing against Bangladesh and England, the legspinner Yasir Shah could miss out.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Sohaib Maqsood, 7 Umar Akmal (wk), 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Ehsan Adil/Sohail Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions — India were swatted around Adelaide Oval for 371 by Australia, and then racked up 364 themselves against Afghanistan. On the afternoon before the game, Dhoni said that the pitch was damp, but added it looked similar to the one for the Australia warm-up. Rohit had felt that one had more bounce compared to the surface on which India played Afghanistan.
It was overcast and humid in Adelaide on Friday. Saturday began the same way, but the afternoon scorched at forty-plus degrees. Sunday is expected to be clear and in the late-thirties.
Stats and trivia:
- Shahid Afridi is the only survivor from the only time these two teams met in Adelaide, in January 2000
- India lead 4-3 head-to-head against Pakistan in Australia, although they have not faced each other in the country in the last 15 years
What’s brilliant about this team is you don’t need to calm nerves. They’ve got a fair amount of experience, all of them — MS Dhoni does not feel his players will put themselves under too much pressure
You just don’t take anything into the ground when you are playing against India. You don’t have to worry about what’s happening outside, what’s going on in the countries. I think you need to focus on your game, go there, and play your best — Misbah-ul-Haq wants his team to confine their attention to the cricket
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