In around 24 hours time, the heart will start beating ever so slightly faster, the palms will be a little bit sweatier, and the throats might be sore from all the shouting. It’s another India versus Pakistan cricket encounter, the biggest rivalry in sport.
By Shayan Siddiqui (24th December 2012)
Pakistan and India have met on numerous occasions in the past year or so, including the 2011 World Cup semi-final, the Asia Cup, and also a couple of times at the recent T20 World Cup. So the fact that the two arch-rivals meet yet again for two T20Is and three ODIs starting tomorrow, may not feel that significant for many fans
However it is significant. The fans have not had the privilege of viewing their teams partake in a bilateral series against one another since 2007, a period when Pakistan and India were playing each other arguably far too often. It’s easy to forget that Pakistan’s 2007 tour of India was the fourth series between the sides in four years, after bilateral ties resumed for the historic meeting in 2004. Various other meetings in tri-series tournaments and Asia Cups meant that the rivalry was beginning to become a bit stale, with some suggesting that the teams were playing each other far too often.
Since 2007, we have only been able to witness nine India-Pakistan contests, six of which have been won by India, including the last four meetings. They have certainly looked far more relaxed in recent matches between the two teams, and perhaps this explains their success, and the fact that Indian fans are not hyping this series up as much as their Pakistani counterparts. Nonetheless, it was important for world cricket that India and Pakistan resumed bilateral ties, and let’s hope we see a return leg in Pakistan very soon, preferably with some Test matches.
As for the series itself, it’s a tough one to call. Whilst India have had the better of the recent head to head encounters, their defeat to England at home most surely have left them demoralised. After losing a Test series at home for the first time since 2004, they were also unable to seal the T20I series, a format in which they are expected to dominate, after Eoin Morgan’s last ball six snatched England victory. Pakistan went further in the T20 World Cup, but inevitably lost to India along the way, and must be rusty after a long break from international cricket.
Pakistan have opted for an interesting blend of youth and experience in both ODI and T20 squads, with some exciting new faces in the team. Umar Amin, Zulfiqar Babar, Asad Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Haris Sohail and Anwar Ali are the less recognisable names in the selected squads, but all appear to have been selected following strong domestic showings in recent months. The T20 side looks somewhat thin on batting, and there will be pressure on the likes of Nasir Jamshed and skipper Mohammad Hafeez to set a decent platform for some of the aggressors lower down.
The ODI squad looks quite impressive, with Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Misbah Ul-Haq likely to be part of the middle order. The issue will be whether these players can bat at the required pace, particularly on the flat high scoring Indian tracks. The think tank should seriously consider giving Haris Sohail a go, and with no Shahid Afridi (yet!) or Abdul Razzaq, there is distinct lack of firepower later in the batting order. If fast bowlers Junaid Khan, Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz hit form, they could certainly prove to be handful for the Indian batsmen.
India are unchanged from the T20 side that tied the series with England, but their ODI squad contains some new faces. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, an Uttar Pradesh all-rounder, and Shami Ahmed, a seamer from Bengal, have been rewarded for consistently performing in domestic cricket and on A tours. Despite Virat Kohli’s poor form recently, Pakistan should be wary of him, and we only need to look back to the Asia Cup for evidence of what he is capable. Yuvraj Singh also looked to be regaining some form, and with Virender Sehwag also back in the ODI squad, Pakistan will need to be on top of their game to restrict what appears to be a powerful batting lineup.
In around 24 hours time, the heart will start beating ever so slightly faster, the palms will be a little bit sweatier, and the throats might be sore from all the shouting. It’s another India versus Pakistan cricket encounter, the biggest rivalry in sport. Fact.