| Anil Kumble during practice in Centurion Friday
Pretoria: Thirty two months is a long time in sport, perhaps more so when it comes to India- Pakistan cricket. Saturday’s game in neighbouring Centurion, therefore, is going to have an additional flavour — that of renewal.
That will surely come with unusual baggage. But, then, no Indo-Pak match has ever been an ordinary affair. Given the build-up, it’s no surprise that both captains — Sourav Ganguly and Waqar Younis — spoke about the need to not go overboard before a sell-out crowd at SuperSport Park.
For Pakistan, of course, the four pool A points are a matter of life or death — indeed, the ‘treatment’ back home is such, there’s nothing in between. For India, the pressure is much less, but full points will confirm a Super Six ticket.
Actually, who needs to do what was reflected in the mood Friday. While the Indians were coolly professional in their workout, Pakistan’s schedule was hit by monsoon-like showers (in Centurion). Already tense, the team headed back to Johannesburg. It couldn’t be confirmed if alternative arrangements were worked out.
Pakistan have struggled throughout the World Cup, while India have got their act together after being smashed by Australia (at SuperSport Park itself) a fortnight back. With three wins on the trot, the last being a most emphatic one versus England, the Indians are on a high.
For Sourav, it’s all about “keeping the momentum.” Less happily placed, Waqar is praying his players “hit form.” Quite the wrong time to pray but, then, the Pakistan captain has no choice.
Incidentally, the Indian XI is set to have just four faces from the side which lost to Pakistan in the last game — by 44 runs in a Asia Cup fixture (Dhaka) on June 3, 2000. Besides Sourav, Sachin Tendulkar and vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble should also be there.
For his part, Sourav believes the present team is a “much better” one-day unit. “We field sharper and the bowling is much superior...” Clearly, the captain had Zaheer Khan and Wednesday’s hero Ashish Nehra in mind when he talked about the bowling.
Thirtytwo months ago, Sourav was still new in the ‘hot seat’. Today, he has led across the world. As captain, then, will his own feelings be any different' Smiling, Sourav told The Telegraph: “If I myself take the match differently, I won’t be able to ask the players to try and treat it as they would any other game... But, yes, the toss will be a big moment.”
Sourav, it may be recalled, missed the last India-Pakistan match in a World Cup (Manchester, 1999) owing to injury. Centurion will see his ‘debut’.
To return to the Indian XI, it’s “as good as assured” that Kumble will replace Harbhajan Singh. In recent times, Harbhajan has been getting the nod in a one-spinner-only scenario, but he hasn’t been incisive in the tournament and there’s this feeling that the hugely experienced Kumble (240 appearances) is required in a tight game.
That apart, as already reported in these columns, Mohammed Kaif and Dinesh Mongia will swap places. As of late Friday, Kaif will bat at No. 4, with Mongia going three slots lower.
Pakistan have a big problem with out-of-form players, but even they could make just one change: Younis Khan replacing Saleem Elahi. Whatever the eventual composition, will Pakistan be able to correct the World Cup imbalance (vis-a-vis India)'
For now, at least, Waqar is living in hope. “Well, there’s always a first... We’ve never beaten India, but...” In fact, for a change, India take to a Pakistan game with a higher billing. Shoaib Akhtar can target all 11 but, after Kingsmead, India will be difficult to beat.
The weather, though, shouldn’t spoil a rare show. For, till the politicians and generals get out of the habit of constantly no-balling each other, a Sachin versus Shoaib duel will remain a rarity.
INDIA (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammed Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Anil Kumble, Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.
PAKISTAN (likely): Taufeeq Umar, Saeed Anwar, Abdul Razzaq, Inzamam-ul Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Rashid Latif, Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Rudi Koertzen.
Match Referee: Mike Procter.
Match starts: 1.30 pm (IST).