The sub-continent will come to an halt on Wednesday when most mercurial team of the world will take on most confident team in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at Mohali. The battle between Pakistan and India cannot be termed as an ordinary game as it is considered as battle of nerves and prestige. It is a battle which is keenly watched by everybody including the Presidents and Prime Ministers and every minute of this game provides excitement in plenty. This is the game which set the pulse racing of its spectators because of the quality and intense cricket played in this contest.
Every player try to give more than 100% in this game and for the spectators of both the country, victory in this game is everything. To watch this game, people try to take leave from their offices on the account of false excuses, students avoid going to schools and whoever is not interested in cricket, also watch this game. That is the kind of importance this game between India and Pakistan holds in the hearts of the people across the borders. The Indian and Pakistani cricket teams have been long-time arch rivals and their rivalry is considered one of the most intense sports rivalries in the world. An India-Pakistan cricket match has been estimated to attract up to one hundred million television viewers according to well respected TV ratings firm Initiative, and defeat is usually unacceptable to fans of both teams. In the World Cup matches, India has a 4-0 record over Pakistan. Whichever team lose the battle in this contest, goes through lot of trauma and winning team get all the laurels and applause in the world. It is not a simple cricket match. It is Lord of all the battles, it is India vs Pakistan. This battle hold so much importance due to volatile relations between these two South Asian countries since last 63 years. Cricket also failed to remain unaffected due to volatile political relationship between these two countries and thats why since 1952, when Indo-Pak cricketing relationship started, these two neighboring countries have played only 59 test matches and 119 ODIs due to on and off cricketing relationship.
Now its time for another Indo-Pak battle and this battle is fought for reaching the finals of the 10th edition of ICC Cricket World Cup. Although finals will be on 2nd April, Saturday but for the fans across the borders, this match is the final. If we look at history, then we will find that Pakistan always had upper hand in Indo Pak ties. Especially in 80s and 90s Pakistan dominated India in ODIs especially in Sharjah. Pakistan won battles in Sharjah because it was home away from home for the Pakistanis. Umpires also favoured Pakistan during those battles, hence India lost the matches on a regular basis at Sharjah and thats why India's record against Pakistan looks poor. But it started to change from mid-90s and India and Pakistan always remained even, after mid-90s. In last 10 ODIs its 5-5 for each country. No matter how poor Pakistan perform against any country but when they play against India, they raise their performance one notch higher than their performance against other countries and same goes with India.
Coming to the semi-final game, India is considered as favourite among the cricket pundits but I believe Pakistan will have upper hand in this game because of their under-dog tag. They don't feel much pressure because they will be playing away from the home and India will be playing in front of their home crowd and that will definitely add the pressure on India. It is a battle between Indian batting vs Pakistani bowling. India possess one of the best batting line-up in the World and Pakistan possess the most lethal bowling attack. If India have Sehwag and Tendulkar then Pakistan have Gul and Razzak with Akhtar in doubt for Wednesday's encounter. India have Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir then Pakistan have Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal. So its going to be a even contest.
India certainly have little edge in terms of experience. Dhoni, as a captain is also termed better than Afridi by cricket pundits. Afridi is considered as instinctive captain while Dhoni is cool and calm customer. But both are out of form as far as batting is concerned. Afridi is doing wonders with the ball while Dhoni is excellent behind the wickets. Dhoni have lot of experienced people around him to advice while Afridi have only Misbah Ul Haq and Younis Khan. Indian batting order is now more or less settled while Pakistani batting line-up still looks unsettled and there will be changes seen during the match against India. It will not be a surprise if Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq will be promoted up the order to sieze the initiative. Pakistan also possess pocket dynamo in Umar Akmal whose talent has been not utilised properly so far. I think Afridi have to move him up the order, if he wants good contribution from this talented batsmen. Pakistani openers Hafeez and Kamran Akmal showed talent with the bat in the match against West Indies but it will be interesting to see how they will perform in a pressure match.
Kamran Akmal's keeping is also under scanner because he has dropped too many catches in the tournament and he has to improve his catching in this game because Pakistan can't afford to drop any catch in this pressure match. Asad Shafiq has done well for them up the order but I think it will be better if he bats down the order in the game against India because of his inexperience. As far as Pakistani fielding is concerned, it remained up and down throughout the tournament and they have to work hard on it, ahead this crunch game. Afridi and Razzak have to shoulder some responsibility in this match with the bat because their care-free attitude will not going to help Pakistan in this match, so both have to take their batting seriously. Pakistan batting is weak compared to India but they are very unpredictable species.
As far as India is concerned they are coming in this match after playing pressure game against Australia and they know how to handle the pressure situation but looking at the unpredictability of the Pakistani side they have to be extra careful. Indian batting is in good form and every batsmen have runs under their belt except captain Dhoni. Tendulkar and Sehwag pair is the third best opening pair of this World Cup and much of India's success will rely on the performance of these two stalwarts. It is do or die game and these two have to give India, best possible start and if they fail to do then it will not going to be easy for India to win this game. To, India's liking Yuvraj Singh is in tremendous form with the bat and ball and he is the one player whose performance will definitely have the impact on outcome of this game. Gambhir, Kohli and Raina have to contribute nicely in the match against Pakistan, if India wants to go into finals.
If Pakistani batting is weak then India bowling is also not very strong. Except Zaheer and Ashwin, all other bowlers struggled to take wickets including star spinner Harbhajan. Harbhajan remained economical but failed to pick many wickets, which is expected from him. I think Harbhajan have to go for kill rather than containing the batsmen. It is good that Yuvraj is bowling well otherwise India would have struggled in this tournament because two bowlers can't win matches. I think Munaf Patel have to be persisted with, in this match because he has played all the games in the tournament. Cricket pundits are favouring Sreesanth and no doubt Sreesanth is very good bowler but he has not played active cricket since 20th February so it will be risky to field him in the important match like this, without any match practice.
Mohali pitch will going to assist fast bowlers because of its bouncy nature and if there will be a grass on the pitch then it will certainly favour Pakistani bowlers but at the same time it will suit Indian pacers as well and will definitely test the weak Pakistani batting which often crumble on the seaming and bouncy pitches due to their faulty batting technique. Dew will be a factor and I believe the team which won the toss definitely field first to take advantage of moisture in the wicket and negate the dew factor by batting second. It will going to be cliffhanger and whichever team holds the nerve in this fight-to- finish contest will emerge as winner. India are favourites and Pakistan is under-dog and as far as record is concerned it is even. We have seen lot of upsets in this World Cup, so it will will be interesting to see will Pakistan pull out the upset or India move to the finals. Whatever, both the teams done in league stages will not going to matter much in this match as this will going to be different game altogether. So if we say, Pakistan performed well in league stage or India's performance was up and down, will not have much impact on this game. Whichever team display better cricketing skills and mental strength on the ground will going to win.
Sledging will also going to be an important part of this match and we will see lot of verbal duel between the players which will add extra spice to this contest.