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Updated: September 25, 2009 20:22 IST

India, Pakistan gear up for high-voltage clash

S. Dinakar
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MS Dhoni and Younis Khan (R)
AP MS Dhoni and Younis Khan (R)

The SuperSport Park will be a blaze of colour on Saturday. In what promises to be a celebration of the game, India meets Pakistan in a Group ‘A' match of ICC Champions Trophy.

The tension leading to the match has been palpable. But at the end of the day, the contest will be no more than a cricketing duel between two neighbouring countries with oodles of talent.

Pakistan enters the match with a hard-earned win over the West Indies. India will be playing its first match of the tournament. With much at stake, sparks could fly and heroes might emerge.

The temperament of the cricketers will be under scrutiny. Pakistan captain Younus Khan, nursing a hairline fracture on his finger, said he would play through pain in a big game. Opener Imran Nazir could make way for his skipper; this also means Shoaib Malik could open the innings with Kamran Akmal.

India was dealt a major blow ahead of the competition when the aggressive Yuvraj Singh was ruled out with a fractured finger. Already missing Virender Sehwag, India will be without another match-winner.

Yuvraj can provide the innings momentum in the middle overs and be destructive at the death. He will be hard to replace.

But then, adversity can be a great binding force. This Indian team has performed well in the ODIs and there is immense self-belief in the camp.

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid could provide the side the inspiration it seeks. Tendulkar sizzled at the top and Rahul Dravid was rock-solid in the middle-order as India successfully chased a big target against Pakistan at Centurion during the 2003 World Cup. The memories are fresh.

The pitches at the Centurion for the ongoing competition differ much from the surfaces at the Wanderers. The wicket at SuperSport Park is slower and there is a fair measure of assistance to the spinners in the second half of the match; the odd ball has tended to keep low.

Harbhajan Singh would be a factor but India might not field a second spinner and five specialist bowlers since its batting has been dented by fitness issues. Three pacemen and a spinner with Yusuf Pathan chipping in with his off-spin could be the answer.

There have been question marks over paceman Ishant Sharma's form but the team management might give the lanky bowler another opportunity.

Left-arm paceman Aashish Nehra could be the key bowler for India upfront; he can swing the ball both ways and is lively.

While opener Gautam Gambhir appears to have recovered swiftly from a groin strain, India will ponder hard over Yuvraj's replacement in the middle-order. Dinesh Karthik, given his experience, could be the man in a high-pressure match. Karthik has opened but is a natural middle-order bat.

In the absence of Sehwag and Yuvraj, India would seek quick runs from skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni - he might have to don a more aggressive role – and Yusuf Pathan. The two will be key men in the batting Power Plays.

Pakistan's batting can be vulnerable against the moving ball. When the ball is new, the Indian pacemen will have to pitch it up and invite the drive. Much focus will be on skipper Younus and Mohammad Yousuf who have delivered against India in the past. The talented Umar Akmal will be under the scanner; an India – Pakistan match separates men from boys.

Pakistan possesses a potent pace attack with Umar Gul's speed and swing and the young Mohammed Aamer's left-armer's angles and variations being the biggest threats. Both employ the short ball well and some of the younger Indian batsmen could be tested.

Will Pakistan play corridor bowler Mohammed Asif for Rana Naved –ul Hasan? To his credit, Rana has not let anyone down since his comeback. Shahid Afridi could relish bowling on the Centurion pitch and remains a danger man for India with the willow. Saeed Ajmal's off-spin cannot be under-estimated either.

The Indians could be better off batting first on a Super Saturday.

The teams: India (from): M.S. Dhoni (captain), S. Tendulkar, G. Gambhir, R. Dravid, S. Raina, D. Karthik, Y. Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Aashish Nehra. Rudra Pratap Singh, Praveen Kumar, Abhishek Nayar, V. Kohli, A. Mishra.

Pakistan (from): Younus Khan (captain), K. Akmal, S. Malik, M. Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, U. Akmal, S. Afridi, Rana Naved, U. Gul, M. Aamer, S. Ajmal, M. Asif, I. Nazir, F. Alam, R. Iftekar.

Match starts at 6 p.m. IST.

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