It will be Pakistan bowlers versus Indian batsmen
Just when it seemed all was dry and well in England (and Wales), the rains have come down with gloomy predictability. After five mild, sunny days at the ICC Champions Trophy, it has rained across venues, with varying intensity and affecting three games to differing degrees.
Birmingham has been no exception. It has drizzled here for two days now and more has been forecast for the week ahead but when India and Pakistan meet for their final Group ‘B’ game at Edgbaston on Saturday, there will be little dampening of fervour.
In tournament terms, of course, the fixture is inconsequential, India cheerily through to the semifinals and Pakistan eliminated after two defeats. This could take the edge off the affair — in any case, India v Pakistan does not carry the same spite and tension it once did — but on the ground at least, in heavily multi-cultural Birmingham, there has been no loss of interest.
A capacity crowd of 25,000 is expected; tickets, now trading for at least three times their face value on the internet, were sold out inside three hours when they first went up for sale.
The sides played each other at the turn of the year back in India, when Pakistan took the one-day series 2-1. But much has changed since.
Misbah-ul Haq looked decidedly weary addressing the press on the eve of the game, tired perhaps of answering for his side’s failures. Players were not justifying their places, he had said bluntly after their two defeats. Except for the captain — who was rather unfairly booed after the last game — and the young Nasir Jamshed, whom India will recall well for his two hundreds over in Chennai and Kolkata, runs have been a scarce commodity.
Save for these two, no player aggregates more than 20 runs from the first two matches. This game then is one last chance, both to individual players and the team, to escape the fury of their notoriously fickle fans and return home proud. Much will be forgiven, or that is what Misbah seemed to believe at any rate, if victory over the neighbour could be delivered.
Where Pakistan has found success, though, is in its fast bowlers, yet another generation of whom the assembly line appears to have turned out. Junaid Khan, a raw young quick out of the mountains of the north-west, the giant Mohammad Irfan, and Wahab Riaz — all left-armers — will bother India’s unstoppable openers (at least more than they have been bothered in previous matches).
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have liked to attack; thus their approach, and that of the other batsmen, of whom not much has been seen (it is, after all, a short tournament) will make for interesting viewing.
Of India’s own bowlers, Umesh Yadav could improve some, his lack of accuracy slightly worrying.
Pitches at the competition have been vastly drier than expected, with spinners coming to play a significant role. In the previous game at Birmingham, New Zealand deployed as many as three spinners — all of whom bowled out — over Australia. India will be served well by Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin, Suresh Raina also capable of chipping in.
India has failed to beat Pakistan in the Champions Trophy, in two attempts. Much this does not mean, but there is one good last chance for correction.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Kaarthick, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Vinay Kumar.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Shoaib Malik, Umar Amin, Kamran Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Asad Ali, Ehsan Adil, Imran Farhat, Asad Shafiq, Abdur Rehman.