7 Reasons Why India Need to be Wary of Pakistan
... there’s nothing to lose.
Going into the Sunday final of the ICC Champions Trophy, India are clear favourites, the superior team by a mile, twice as good as their opponents.
India vs Pakistan on paper is Mohammad Ali fighting Mukri – no contest.
Yet, India must watch out.
Because... This is Cricket
You never know which way the ball will run. India had a 'complete game' (Virat's description of the 9-wicket thrashing of Bangladesh) in the semi-final. And a resurgent Pakistan too stunned England in their “final four” fixture.
Cricket is wickedly uncertain, as is the Indian monsoon and the London weather. Like D/L, nobody understands or masters cricket's intriguing methods. Make a prediction and the result, most likely, will bite you.
Common wisdom suggests that not reputations, what matters is 'form on the day'. The past is irrelevant.
At the toss, teams start afresh on zero and are clueless about the final result. In this situation, best not to predict the outcome – just hope for the best and brace for the worst.
It's The Champion's Trophy
This tournament has seen successive upsets and unexpected results. Experts have repeatedly been caught on the wrong foot – who had thought Australia and South Africa wouldn't make the last four, and Bangladesh would?
The overwhelming vote was for England, who were blown away by Pakistan.
With so many “shocks”, would it really be safe to decide the outcome for Sunday?
It’s The Underdog Theory
Compared to India, the Pakistan team are probably in a happier space.
As the better side – and now the clear favourites – India are expected to win and knock over Pakistan on Sunday, like they did South Africa and Bangladesh.
Unlike India, Pakistan is unburdened by the weight of expectations – they have little to lose, much to gain. If they win it's fantastic; if not they will be applauded for reaching this far.
Pakistan – even a weak side – is always a massive threat because they are unpredictable, don't play according to script and can surprise and shock everyone, including themselves.
Their Champions Trophy performance was best summed up by a senior PCB official : “Yakeen hi nahin hota, yeh team kucch bhi kar sakti hai!”
The team is short on quality batting but the top order looked good against England.
Though unpredictable and lacking all round muscle, Pakistan has genuine strength, especially with the new ball. Amir, Junaid and Hassan Ali can ask serious questions of a batting unit because all bowl with pace and aggression. If they inflict early damage on the Indians and get to attack the middle order, there could be a real contest on Sunday.
It's Not 'Any Other Game'
It's a fashionable cliche to say that a India-Pakistan match is like 'any other game', played with a bat and ball. You know better.
The statement is simply advance damage control. Both teams choose to play down the importance of the match to calm nerves and limit adverse backlash in the event of failure.
But nobody is deceived by these tactics. India-Pakistan is NOT any other game.
It's The Pressure
In a high-profile game like India vs Pakistan, more than skills/form/ability, what counts is the ability to withstand pressure. More so as cricket is being played in the backdrop of a lot of noise around the two countries.
The narrative is not just Kohli and Sarfraz – there are other actors also at play. The Sunday result will be decided by who, and which team, holds its nerve ands get onto the front foot.
The big question: In this all round tension, can anyone maintain a stable blood pressure of 120/20?
It's The Final
The occasion – this being the final, the ultimate knockout game – adds another dimension to the contest. India and Pakistan have not played in a big final for a long time and the match promises to be a blockbuster event. In fact, this is the first ICC 50 over ODI final that the two teams are facing-off in.
Two traditional rivals, both with a point to prove, in front of a sellout crowd in clear weather.
The stage is set. India hold the advantage, but have to watch out for Pakistan.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)
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