The pressure that is Pakistan!

Spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have a crucial role to play against Pakistan on Wednesday.

First-timers Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have a massive responsibility when India locks horns with arch-rival Pakistan.   -  Aijaz Rahi

India and Pakistan. Two nations. Billion voices. And when it comes to cricket, pressure that puts gravity to shame. 

Twenty-nine years ago, Sachin Tendulkar, in his maiden tour of Pakistan at 16 years and 205 days, had prepared a manual of pressure-handling that inspired youngsters. A Waqar Younis bouncer called blood, but Tendulkar’s resistance earned him a fifty that helped India save the Test. 

In the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal, when Aamir Sohail made the Indian bowling attack look ordinary, Venkatesh Prasad sent his stumps cart-wheeling. A young and unknown Hrishikesh Kanitkar became an overnight star in 1998 when he hit a boundary off a tricky Saqlain Mushtaq last over to help India win the final of the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup in Dhaka.

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As India prepares to meet Pakistan in the Asia Cup on Wednesday, these are the stories that should be told to the players who will feel the cross-border pressure for the first time.

 ‘The ball will do its part’

Seven out of India’s 16 players [from the Asia Cup squad] have not played against Pakistan, and the intensity is perhaps a first. The subcontinent fixture has put the spotlight on India’s spin-twins Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.

First-timers against Pakistan

K.L. Rahul

Manish Pandey

Kuldeep Yadav

Yuzvendra Chahal

Axar Patel

Shardul Thakur

Khaleel Ahmed

 

Though Kuldeep Yadav’s coach, Kapil Pandey, advised him to approach Pakistan as any other opponent, he also requested his ward to aim for at least three to four wickets. “I told him if he finishes with three wickets against Pakistan, it will be a proud moment for all,” Pandey told Sportstar on Monday.

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Ahead of the big clash, Kuldeep called up his coach for tips. “Spot bowling is his strength and I told him to stick to that. The opponent won’t matter, only the thought process changes according to situations. He needs to relax and deliver. He should generate enough flight in the air. The wickets are flat, so he needs to get that balance.

Whoever he bowls to, the ball doesn’t behave according to big names. The ball will do its part,” he added. 

Forming a pair

Pandey feels the partnership with Chahal holds his ward in good stead. “They have developed a good tuning. If you become a pair, you should support each other. It is not about who is good or better. There are sacrifices too. The chemistry will help them in Asia Cup,” he said.

Neutral venues

Former India slow left-arm bowler Nilesh Kulkarni — who played Pakistan in Pakistan in 1997 as a 24-year-old — feels neutral venues are a blessing. “That’s the good part. It is totally different if you play them in Pakistan. I will never forget that experience of watching the entire crowd in the stadium cheer for Pakistan. It is a different experience,” said Kulkarni, who dismissed the in-form Shahid Afridi all three times and ended up with six wickets in three one-dayers.

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From that tour, Kulkarni still remembers the second game that India won in Karachi. Off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan had smashed Saqlain out of the ground to win the match. “It’s a great memory to have. Saqlain was upset when the ball got changed, and then, Rajesh hit that six. It was fabulous. We played very good cricket in that match,” he said.

Kulkarni, however, feels Kuldeep and Chahal have gained enough experience for over a year. “These guys are experienced enough, it is not going to be difficult for them to absorb that pressure. Plus, they have enough advice available in the dressing room.”

It remains to be seen if this time, heroes are born this side or across the fence.