Bangalore: The revelry of Christmas has been heightened by the joy of seeing India take on Pakistan on the cricket field. But cricket has been rendered poorer since December 23, 2012 when Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from the limited-overs format.
On the eve of the first T20 International of the two-match series between the neighbours, cricket is thus standing at a unique crossroads, where life and shadow will be contesting each other… Where the Virat Kohlis will be trying to keep the aura of one-day cricket intact in the post-Sachin era.
Metaphors or similes cannot measure the impact that Sachin had on the Indian team, and the game in general.
His retirement has almost overshadowed the hype and euphoria that generally surrounds an India-Pakistan encounter. This being the first bilateral series since 2007, there’s much more than cricket at play.
But still, there’s nothing beyond Sachin at the moment.
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni agrees: “Sachin’s contribution is immense and we will definitely miss him.”
The retirement was in the pipeline. The nation knew, so did the Indian team. Even then, the sense of loss will be hovering over the Dhonis, at least for the time being.
As the series gets underway, on Tuesday, one would be reminded of those masterpieces that The Master had sketched against Pakistan in over a two-decade period.
Think of the match-winning knocks of 98 in the 2003 World Cup or the dazzling 85 in the 2011 Cup semi-final... Even in the last clash between the arch-rivals, in the Asia Cup, he stroked a fluent half-century to help India’s cause.
Team India are going through a transition period, with the seniors leaving the park one by one. It had started with Sourav Ganguly’s retirement, and with Sachin it ended. Sachin’s still available for Tests, but one assumes even that luxury won’t be there for too long.
So Tuesday can be marked as the day when the next generation of Indian cricket will be taking maiden independent step.
The match, in plain and simple terms, is a battle between India’s batting and Pakistan’s bowling.
There’s a tinge of grass on the pitch. Incidentally, KSCA president Anil Kumble and general secretary Javagal Srinath had a brief chat with the curator ahead of the teams’ practice session. Wonder what their message might have been.
To speak about the Indian batting, the flamboyant Kohli would like to cap what has been a glorious year individually with a fine performance against Pakistan. But Dhoni has to bypass worries (there are too many at present) to be able to concentrate.
Suresh Raina will look to draw confidence from his positive showing in the recently-concluded England T20 series. Yuvraj Singh has been a pillar of strength. Not only is his batting looking majestic, he has delivered with the ball too, scalping six wickets in the T20 series against England. But what might concern India is the off-form of opener Gautam Gambhir.
India’s bowling will have to fight overall inexperience to make a mark. Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana, Ravichandran Ashwin and Piyush Chawla have all struggled in recent times and Pakistan are not the easiset of opponents. Under the circumstances, Ishant Sharma might play a pivotal role.
Moving over to the other camp: The Pakistan bowling line-up, although a bit short on experience, which would hold the key for them.
The formidable pace bowling duo of Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir, and the spin attack comprising Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and captain Mohammed Hafeez — it’s a lively and interesting bowling attack.
But all said and done, in an India versus Pakistan clash, form and reputation count for little. The outcome will be decided not on technicalities but attitude, nerve and character.
Let’s wait and see whether it turns out to be a Merry Christmas for Dhoni & Co., Duncan Fletcher included.
India (from): Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Parvinder Awana, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Ambati Rayudu
Pakistan (from): Mohammed Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanveer, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammed Irfan, Zulfiqar Babar, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Ali, Umar Amin
Umpires: S. Ravi, Shamsuddin. TV: Vineet Kulkarni.
Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama
Match starts: 7pm