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India vs Pakistan: A One-Off Hurdle

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MS Dhoni-India-cricketBy Chetan Narula from Adelaide :

During the mega-clash on Sunday in Adelaide, there was a very small period of play when India were worried. Chasing 301, Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail built a decent second-wicket partnership of 68 runs. For the first time in the game, Pakistan looked in control.

At the same time, devouring some delicious butter chicken in the media dining room, I was sitting with a senior journalist from across the border. “They look solid enough. What do you think, 50-50 chase?” I asked him. “Oh, you over-estimate our boys. If your lower-order collapsed, our top and middle order can match them step for step. Wait and watch!” he quipped.

Almost on cue, Sohail got out to R Ashwin, caught smartly by Suresh Raina. Things still weren’t lost, as Shehzad stayed put with the most solid batsman in their line-up, skipper Misbah ul Haq. This was the vital partnership, I wondered, perhaps the same as billions back in India and millions in Pakistan. Then, Shehzad hit Umesh Yadav straight to Ravindra Jadeja who caught it on second attempt. Ominously thereafter came the collapse, and in the 25th over, placed at 103/5, their chase was already over.

Later after India won, skipper MS Dhoni was asked to value the 6-0 score-line.

 

It is a good score-line, but Pakistan are a good team. This will not stay the same forever. Someday we will lose to them, in this World Cup if we meet again, or in four years’ time, or in four World Cups’ time. This unbeatable streak won’t stay forever,

he said, with his inimitable nonchalance.

It takes a pragmatic man to spell out the simple truth. This winning streak is a matter of sheer coincidence, bearing no relation to the past or the future. In 1992, it was a first-ever World Cup clash without the umbrella it carries today. In 1996 and 2011, the din from quarter-final and semi-final affairs drowned everything else. In 1999, Pakistan were on their way to the final and India wanted to save face. In 2003, India reversed that bit and didn’t mind picking up another memento on-course to the final.

In every World Cup, this encounter ought to be only regarded what it means (or meant) for that particular point in time. In 2015 then, as an opening match of the 2015 ODI World Cup, this is a one-off victory for an over-cooked, tired team over an under-prepared, hapless opposition.

Pakistan came into this tournament with only three wins in 13 ODIs in the last six months. They won two warm-ups, but then got muddled in their thinking, enough to tinker with their line-up on the eve of such an important clash. India, on the other hand, sought a fresh beginning to their tour Down Under. The basic value of this match-up therefore was not in its historical significance, but for both teams to kick-start their campaign in the right manner.

While Pakistan sink into their sad quagmire further, the one spark for them is that they face West Indies next, and there has never been a better time to play them. India, meanwhile, go head to head with South Africa, a team they have never beaten in World Cups. Funnily enough, the Men in Blue find the tables turned.

It is at this precise moment that they need to take stock of the benefits of the Pakistan game. In that sense, the runs scored by Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina will calm the dressing room down a lot. They hadn’t scored much in the build-up to the tournament, but perhaps a placid Adelaide Oval track against a toothless Pakistan bowling was just ‘what the doctor ordered.’

Raina’s knock stood out among the three. He came in at number four, in the 30th over, thanks to the cushion provided by Dhawan-Kohli, but didn’t go slam-bang from ball one. He took his time to get set, playing second-fiddle to Kohli for a while and then went after the bowling. For a second consecutive time in a World Cup encounter against Pakistan (remember those 30-odd runs in the 2011 semi-final?), he made the difference.

A little more consistency from Raina could help sort out the middle order woes and provide the Indian team the big-match player they are seeking so desperately. Because this match showed that their number-four spot is a very fluid concept at the moment. If the top-order fails, Ajinkya Rahane comes in, otherwise you opt for Raina. The problem is that Rahane himself hasn’t shown enough steel at this spot.

As such, they won with a false-number-four against Pakistan. A better, fitter, more resolute bowling attack will test India’s batting, someone like the Proteas. Come to think of it, the same can be said about the Indian bowling as well. New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and to a certain extent Sri Lanka are the four teams in this competition who would have fancied chasing 300-plus against this bowling attack on that Adelaide pitch.

It puts the Indian combination into sharp focus. The need for the fifth pace-bowler was inherent, but they didn’t fare so well in the initial overs. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja pulled back things in the middle overs against Pakistan, but each of those four teams know how to work them over. It is about putting pressure on the opposition – something Pakistan batsmen did themselves owing to the charged-up atmosphere – and this set of Indian bowlers succumbs easily as past records suggest.

Combined with the lower order collapse as India fell short by 40 runs, this problem will be of a great concern when Dhoni mulls over his playing eleven against South Africa. Sunday at MCG will be a truer test of where the Men in Blue really stand in this tournament going ahead. That match, yes, and not the sixth-consecutive World Cup win over Pakistan.



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