India vs Pakistan: Rain takes centrestage as Manchester blockbuster hangs in balance

World Cup 2019: India will strive to maintain its dominance against Pakistan; the weather, oscillating between sunshine and drizzle, may have a say.

Spring in the steps: Virat Kohli and his men will have every reason to be optimistic when they take on Pakistan on Sunday.   -  afp

Match-preview days for sports scribes are all about quelling the nerves, figuring out the venue’s practice pitches where the teams train and identifying the press box.

Just as some Indian cricket writers trudged into Old Trafford, the setting for Sunday’s high-octane World Cup game involving India and Pakistan, a car slowed down on the adjacent road.

The youngster at the steering-wheel, leaned towards the window, rolled down the glass and said: “Whether we win the World Cup or not, doesn’t matter, but please win tomorrow’s game.” Soon he merged with Saturday’s morning traffic but confusion lingered. Did he speak in Hindi or Urdu? There was a Punjabi inflexion too in his pronunciation but it is a language spoken on either side of the border. So, was he Indian or Pakistani? And did he realise the nationality of the gentlemen he spoke to?

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The absurdity of the situation is revelatory. After the Radcliffe Line cleaved the two countries apart in 1947, historical angst, perceived slights, sibling rivalry and hyper-nationalism have all combined to nearly scythe a shared cultural umbilical cord. The youth’s utterance has another import, living as he does in an England city where the sub-continental Diaspora has a solid presence. If the squad he roots for, wins, then he gets the bragging rights over his friends from the rival nation.  

And as these high-strung emotions swirled around the joust, the teams attempted to silence the surround-sound. India has a historical grip in the World Cups, having won all its six clashes with the neighbour. Pakistan, meanwhile, is referring to its ‘2017 ICC Champions Trophy’ notes when it defeated the arch-rival by 180 runs in the final at the Oval.

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The weather too has been phlegmatic, oscillating between sunshine and drizzle. The Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said that the pitch seemed brown but the existing atmospheric conditions might force the outfits to reinforce their respective pace-quotient. It remains to be seen if Virat Kohli would prefer Mohammed Shami over Kuldeep Yadav.

Following Shikhar Dhawan’s left-thumb injury, India will step in with K.L. Rahul and Rohit Sharma atop the batting tree. Since a middle-order slot opens up due to Rahul’s elevation, both Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar are in the reckoning. Kohli’s resources on display in the games against South Africa and Australia, seemed turbo-charged. Even if the washed-out Trent Bridge tussle against New Zealand was a dampener, the Men in Blue are better placed unlike a Pakistan, that reiterated its perennial adjective: ‘mercurial’.  

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Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men slumped against the West Indies, upset a fancied England, fumed over a washed-out fixture against Sri Lanka and then succumbed to Australia. Still, this is a unit that includes robust batsmen like Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez and also has the experience of a Shoaib Malik to rely upon even though he hasn’t fired yet. And in the bowling ranks, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz can test the best.

The decks are cleared, Old Trafford will be packed and a massive television audience would further enhance the contest’s halo. 

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, K.L. Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Shikhar Dhawan.

Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan and Shaheen Afridi.

Umpires: Marais Erasmus and Bruce Oxenford; Third umpire: Joel Wilson; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Match starts at 3 p.m. IST.