2015 Cricket World Cup: With India flagging Pakistan may edge history-laden clash

Match set to draw massive worldwide audience will light up World Cup

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The Independent Online

When the matches were being allocated for this World Cup, the city of Adelaide made its preferences plain. Above all, it wanted to stage the encounter between India and Pakistan.

If it scented a commercial opening, it was also aware that there is no more lustrous sporting fixture in the world and that here was an opportunity never to be repeated.

The teams have been feted since arriving there in midweek, but India have been courted assiduously by South Australian politicians for the last two years. A squad of young Indian players from underprivileged backgrounds has spent the summer in Adelaide and was visited by Australia’s coach, Darren Lehmann. The buzzword “legacy” has been much in use.

Such is the far-reaching nature of big-time sport in the 21st century, such the allure of any cricket match between the two countries, some marketing wallahs who claim to know are suggesting that tomorrow’s encounter could be watched by the largest worldwide audience for any team sport.

It does not have quite the resonance of their last meeting in the World Cup, a semi-final in Chandigarh four years ago. That match was responsible for bringing together the respective prime ministers, who flew in on private jets, and from their informal talks emerged some long-awaited but barely anticipated rapprochement.

The tie itself hinged on an lbw decision against Sachin Tendulkar. Given out on 22 and looking stone dead for all the world, he was reprieved by the decision review system.


The rest is history. Tendulkar went on to make 85, India to win the match by 29 runs and three days later the World Cup itself. And still India refuse to allow DRS in any series in which they are playing outside ICC events.

This being the acme of ICC events, DRS, though not Tendulkar, is very much present. It would again be laced with irony were it to have a crucial bearing on the outcome of tomorrow’s match.

Both sides can claim to be holders of sorts. India won the competition last time out so are defending champions; Pakistan were champions on the most recent occasion the World Cup was played in Australia, in 1992.

On their improbable way to glory, Imran Khan’s cornered tigers lost to India in a round robin match. They will need no reminding that India have prevailed in all five World Cup matches between the sides.

But there are reasons to believe that Pakistan can at last notch one tomorrow. India are tired of being on the road and have looked it. They came to Australia in November and have been flying from hotel room to hotel room since.

Although they managed eventually to give a reasonable account of themselves in the Test matches, they have looked increasingly jaded. The World Cup might simply have come too late.

For Pakistan, nomads of world cricket, being away from home is part and parcel of being an international cricketer. They never play in their own country. They looked decidedly perky in a warm-up match against England the other night.

If both teams have batsmen capable of pressing the accelerator hard to the floorboards, Pakistan might have the bowling edge.

The loss of Saeed Ajmal, who was suspended because of a dubious action when the squad was picked, is distinctly unhelpful but they have a battery of left-arm pace – the envy of England, for one – which includes the 7ft 1in Mohammad Irfan.

Ajmal has been cleared to play again and it would not be entirely surprising were he to be drafted into the squad some time in the tournament if one of the other bowlers is injured.

The contribution of both captains could be significant. Over the course of six weeks last time, M S Dhoni led his side magisterially, protecting them from the perpetual scrutiny and the mass adoration which might have submerged them and making a series of bold decisions.

In recent times, he has become partial to tactical irrationality as well as gnomic utterances. He frequently looks and sounds like a man who has been doing the job for too long.

Misbah-ul-Haq was invited, nay implored, to be captain of Pakistan in late 2010 after the crisis which left three players banned in the wake of the scandal of bowling no-balls deliberately in a Test match at Lord’s. Misbah has been a wonderful leader and at the age of 40 is still master of all he surveys. Pakistani cricket owes him a great deal. He brought them back from the abyss and he remains at the top of his game.

The countries have met in Adelaide once before, during a triangular series in 2000, when Sourav Ganguly scored a hundred which led India to victory.

But India are unaccustomed to winning lately. The World Cup and the febrile atmosphere in the stadium should inject life into tired legs. As usual, it will be some occasion. The 11th World Cup could have had no more attractive opening weekend.

Five Alive: India/Pakistan at the World Cup

Tomorrow’s match will be the sixth time India have met Pakistan at the World Cup, with the holders winning all five previous meetings.

4 Mar 1992, Sydney

Round-robin: India 216-7 (Tendulkar 54*) bt Pakistan 173 (Sohail 62) by 43 runs

9 Mar 1996, Bangalore

Quarter-final: India 287-8 (Sidhu 93) bt Pakistan 248-9 (Sohail 55) by 39 runs

8 Jun 1999, Manchester

Super Six: India 227-6 (Dravid 61) bt Pakistan 180 (Prasad  5-27) by 47 runs 

1 Mar 2003, Centurion

Group stage: Pakistan 273-7 (Anwar 101) lost to India 276-4 (Tendulkar 98, Yuvraj 50) by 6 wkts

30 Mar 2011, Mohali

Semi-final: India 260-9 (Tendulkar, above, 85; Riaz 5-46) bt Pakistan 231 (Ul-Haq 56) by 29 runs