| The Indians during a practice session at Edgbaston on Saturday. (PTI)
Birmingham, Sept. 18: Both India and Pakistan are looking for a hat-trick ' different ones, mind you: Pakistan wants to make it three in-a-row against India; India are aiming for three successive ODI wins, following those over England and Kenya.
In any case, tomorrow's clash at Edgbaston has become a Champions Trophy quarter final. So, the elements permitting, an absolute cracker is awaited. Indeed, the one hat-trick neither wants is a third consecutive day of rain and gloom.
'Our preparations have been hit and for the second day running, we've had to do with indoor nets.... But, then, one can't get everything one wishes,' observed Team India captain Sourav Ganguly rather philosophically.
Inzamam-ul Haq voiced much the same thoughts. If anything, he was more blunt: 'Thanks to the weather, our build-up hasn't been proper.... It would have been better had the ICC slotted this tournament in August...'
Despite preparations hit for a six, both captains seemed relaxed, an indication that frequent face-offs between the teams ' seven ODIs have already been played this year ' eased the tension.
Pakistan, though, are at an advantage. If not one ball is bowled either tomorrow or on Monday (reserve day), Inzamam and Co. will go through because of a better net run rate ' 3.20 vis-a-vis 1.96.
'Although the forecast is encouraging, the weather can get unpredictable.... I hope it doesn't reach the net run rate stage but, if it does, it's going to be our bad luck,' remarked Sourav, presenting a clean look after the razor-treatment on his stubble.
With joint holders Sri Lanka out, the pressure is on India ' without Sachin Tendulkar ' to stay in the competition and carry the 2002 'legacy' forward.
Predictably, neither captain is reading much into what may be termed current form.
'The wins in Colombo (in July) and Amstelveen (last month) are history.... As also, by the way, our failure to beat India in events such as the World Cup,' emphasised Inzamam.
Sourav, for his part, said: "It could be anybody's game.... I don't believe in favourites for ODIs.... Everything depends on how one performs on the day."
The captains, however, differed over the impact of the toss. While Inzamam felt winning in unsettled conditions gave a 20 per cent advantage, Sourav maintained the difference wouldn't be appreciable.
Sourav, though, did add: "In England, it's not easy hitting through the line early on and, so, an innings has to be constructed... The first seven-eight overs do become crucial..."
Asked by The Telegraph as to what would make the difference, he answered passionately: "Better cricket.... I don't think one player will make a difference... There's no bigger stage than a match with Pakistan.... I expect everybody to stand up and be counted..."
It's going to be terrific if this pack is led by Virender Sehwag and pin-up boy Yuvraj Singh. Both have been woefully short on runs for many weeks, but the opportunity to make amends is at their doorstep.
Significantly, Pakistan have won both games against India ever since Bob Woolmer moved into the coach's chair ' from where Javed Miandad was evicted in mid June.
Among other things, he has changed the players' body-language and, in the eyes of many, remains the biggest threat for the opposition.
"He has a great record and the change is visible," conceded Sourav. Inzamam, of course, went ga-ga: "Bottomline is that the players are very happy... He relates to each one of them and is a friend.... Our results will surely get better."
Inzamam's priority, for now, is to 'win' the Champions Trophy.
Late tonight, everything pointed to Pakistan retaining the XI which thrashed Kenya by seven wickets on Wednesday. As of now, then, there won't be room for the experienced Azhar Mehmood.
Where the Indians are concerned, one change is confirmed ' Rohan Gavaskar replacing specialist wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik, who wasn't impressive even in Thursday's practice match versus a bunch of amateurs.
Rahul Dravid is going to be back in a double role.
Additionally, Anil Kumble may make a comeback with Ajit Agarkar joining the reserves. Obviously, if this comes about, it will be influenced wholly by the conditions.
Well, much as Inzamam insisted it's going to be "another game,"it's unlikely that anybody on the packed terraces ' support groups, by the way, are converging from London and Leeds, Manchester and Wolverhampton ' will be easily convinced.
Incidentally, cine idol Hrithik Roshan is expected to add glamour to this showpiece match. He is being flown in by Hero Honda, a global partner of the ICC.
India: Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Rohan Gavaskar, Anil Kumble/Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra.
Pakistan (likely): Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik, Inzamam-ul Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan, Naveed-ul-Hasan, Mohammed Sami, Shoaib Akhtar.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, Simon Taufel.
Match Referee: Clive Lloyd.