| Sourav at the nets. (AP)
Pretoria, Feb. 28: Sydney. Bangalore. Manchester... Come tomorrow and Sourav Ganguly’s Team India would like to add Centurion. No Indian side, after all, has lost a World Cup game to Pakistan and this bunch is determined not to blot that record.
Yet, not having played each other for 32 months (last was in Dhaka in 2000), and the emotional upswing guaranteed to be high, a conscious effort is being made to stay calm. Despite Shoaib Akhtar’s provocation of seeking to target all 11 Indians.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be another match.... However, it will be important for both teams not to show much emotion as there’s the danger of that being carried off the field,” cautioned Sourav, adding: “If we keep talking about it as a big game, we will only be inviting pressure on ourselves.”
And, when somebody drew the Indian captain’s attention to the Shiv Sena warning, via banners, that his side shouldn’t return if they can’t beat Pakistan, he countered deftly: “Let them do their job, we will do ours.... We’re here to do well in the World Cup, not just against one country.”
In much the same vein, vice-captain Rahul Dravid declared it wasn’t the players’ job to either make statements or gestures for peace. He did add that the team was looking at their final Pool A match as having “eight points”. Four for winning at the SuperSport Park and four by way of carried-over points, if Pakistan also made the Super Six.
Pakistan captain Waqar Younis said: “It’s another game and, at the same time, not so.... We haven’t hit form, but hope to do so in what has become such a crunch match. Our dream of regaining the World Cup is alive.”
Waqar, though, differed on the emotions issue. “We are mature players and, then, the Match Referee (Mike Procter) will be around. As for the hype, we’ve got no control.”
Waqar will have one eye on the weather. There was a half-hour downpour in neighbouring Centurion this afternoon, sinking Pakistan’s plans for a workout, and “cloudy conditions” have been forecast for the morrow.
An Indian victory will confirm a Super Six berth, while Pakistan needs the four points to stay in contention for the next stage. The do-or-die effort, then, has to come from the Pakistanis. Their form has been indifferent but, as Sourav pointed out, they can “blow hot and cold” and he wouldn’t like to be caught “at the wrong end”.
Pakistan, perhaps, is most dangerous when cornered. Only, Waqar is no Imran Khan and Wasim Akram is 11 years older. It’s another matter that tomorrow could be the last chance for quite a few (Akram included) to make an impression. So somebody may produce the innings or spell of his life.
As it’s going to be a needle match, there’s a good chance that veteran Anil Kumble will replace Harbhajan Singh.
The experience of 240 ODIs carries its own weight — and, it isn’t excess baggage.
Not that there has been a slip-up in security but, given the nature of Indo-Pak games, the fine-tuning will definitely be more. “The Security Directorate is in regular touch with the police and I’m confident nothing untoward will happen,” Dr Ali Bacher, executive director of the World Cup, told The Telegraph.
Usually, his confidence isn’t misplaced.