Two spinners or an extra pacer is India’s dilemma

The Manchester forecast: Cloudy and light rain

By Indranil Majumdar in Manchester
  • Published 16.06.19, 2:49 AM
  • Updated 16.06.19, 3:10 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Virat Kohli (centre) with Jasprit Bumrah (left) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar during a training session ahead of their ICC Cricket World Cup match against Pakistan at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on June 15, 2019. (AP)

Virat Kohli has a simple message for friends and acquaintances wishing to be present at Old Trafford on Sunday: “Organise your own tickets. If you want my opinion, I would say, sit at home and watch it on TV.”

It’s not the passion that arouses such demand for tickets, but also the scarcity as amid political tension, regular resumption of bilateral cricket seems to be a distant dream.

Manchester has seen this before. The 1999 India versus Pakistan at a vital juncture was played in the backdrop of the Kargil War. Circumstances will be different, though an eerie echo of the events two decades back are sure to be felt.

You’d probably think it would be every cricketer’s nirvana: playing in an India-Pakistan match in the World Cup, but the India captain isn’t believing on those lines.

“We know that they have a lot of talent in their team, but if we play well, then we really do well as a team… We’re not focusing too much on what the opposition has to do or what they will bring to the table. We need to believe in our strengths,” he stressed.

Grinning from ear to ear, Virat seemed to pass on the same message to teammates during practice. More than the “high-pressure game”, it’s the team combination that has kept Virat thinking. Perhaps there lies the password to unlocking the bounty.

Jasprit Bumrah during a training session at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Jasprit Bumrah during a training session at Old Trafford on Saturday. (AP)

The ‘unseasonal rain’ and the conditions could well decide the fortune on Sunday. The forecast is for light rain and cloudy conditions.

The intermittent showers stayed away in the morning allowing the Indians a full-fledged session but made a comeback in the afternoon forcing the Pakistanis indoors. By early evening, however, the sun shone brightly at Old Trafford.

It was chilly and windy right through the day forcing the Indians to contemplate on playing one spinner and including an extra pacer.

Vijay Shankar is a certainty at No. 4 following Shikhar Dhawan’s injury. Shankar’s medium pace can also come in handy given the conditions. No wonder bowling coach Bharat Arun spent considerable time with him after nets on an adjoining practice wicket adjacent to the main square.

“The conditions and the length of the game will obviously make us think about a few combinations that we could potentially go in with,” said Virat.

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur didn’t sound too enthusiastic about the wicket.

“I had a look at the wicket on Friday. I’m not 100 per cent sure there’s a massive amount of moisture in there, and the wicket is certainly a lot browner than Taunton was,” he said.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni talks with Rishabh Pant at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni talks with Rishabh Pant at Old Trafford on Saturday. (AP)

If it stays that way, the Indians will go in with two spinners. But Pakistan’s focus will remain on pace. Mohammed Aamir had triggered the collapse in the Champions Trophy final in 2017 and the onus will be on Aamir and Wahab Riaz this time too.

Aamir signalled return to form with a five-wicket haul against Australia in their last match but Wahab’s experience will be enormous in such high-voltage clashes. The Indians have never looked good against a left-arm pace combination and the stress was on negating such threat during nets on the match eve.

Pakistan, with two losses and a washout in four matches, are already crumbling and a loss on Sunday will push them into the intensive care unit. But Arthur is putting up a brave front.

“There’s always pressure in any game, and these games carry exactly the same amount of points… They carry two points. Obviously, there’s a massive hype... Our guys are prepared. We’re ready... We can get out there and perform, and we are so excited about the opportunity,” the coach said.

India’s all-win record against Pakistan in World Cups will be under threat only if the likes of Babar Azam, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Fakhar Zaman can fire to their potential. There’s already talk on Shoaib Malik’s lack of runs and the think tank’s propensity to give him an extended run.

Virat and his team have learnt to take the pressure of such high profile contests in their strides since the Champions Trophy final debacle. For Pakistan, their biggest trump card will be their unpredictability tag.