The sky was painted in dark grey, the teams were forced to skip practice and the anxiety levels of the fans climbed by a notch or two.

The threat of rain hangs heavily over the much-awaited India-Pakistan ODI duel at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday. Saturday witnessed heavy showers and scattered thunderstorms have been forecast on the day of the first game of the three-match series.

Given the significance and relevance of India-Pakistan cricket, everyone would want the match to happen. “India-Pakistan games are good for world cricket,” observed Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

Memories come gushing back when India meets Pakistan in the cricketing arena. Actually, you can still hear the roar.

No it was not for an Indian victory. It was, rather, after India went down in the humdinger that the 1999 Test against Pakistan at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium certainly was.

A bridge built

The sporting Chepauk crowd, breaking barriers, rose as one to applaud the triumphant Pakistani side under Wasim Akram. A bridge had been built.

It was no different in the ODI in Karachi in 2004 when a full house, discarding partisanship, chanted ‘Rahul, Rahul,’ when Rahul Dravid was on 99. Another bridge had been built.

The India-Pakistan matches, apart from whipping up some spectacular cricket, also build bonds of friendship.

If Sunday’s contest is shortened by rain, then the dynamics of the duel changes.

There is bound to be early movement off the pitch for pacemen and the side winning the toss might be keen to insert the opposition. The wicket might be doing less too during the chase.

With the threat of rain looming, it could be better for the batting side to know its target keeping in mind the Duckworth and Lewis equations.

The track at Chepauk in normal circumstances — on a typical Chennai day — tends to assist the spinners during the second half of a one-day duel. But then, inclement weather has altered the equations.

“The weather could pose a challenge, but the sides would have to adapt,” said Misbah.

The chances are that both teams could be seeking to include an additional paceman keeping in mind the conditions that could prevail.

New rules

This will also be the first time that India would figure in an ODI after the new set of rules has come into effect.

The pacemen would now be allowed to send down two bouncers an over which could prevent batsmen from getting onto the front foot.

The two new white balls, to be used from either end, could also provide the pace and swing bowlers with greater teeth.

On the flip side, a harder ball would travel quicker off the bat during the end overs. And the use of two balls might take reverse swing out of the equation.

Then, the ICC ruling that makes it mandatory to have five fielders in the 30-yard circle during all times of the innings has not gone down well with many including India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“This will not give confidence to the spinners to flight the ball. I think the move will take ODI cricket more towards the Twenty20 style of play. I feel there have been too many changes in the ODI rules. Every format has a distinct character,” said Dhoni.

Free of injuries

Both sides are free of injuries. Pakistan has the edge in bowling and Umar Gul’s swing, cut and precision could pose searching questions. Off-spinner Saaed Ajmal can hurt with his two-way spin and control and then there is Mohammad Irfan.

“He is a bit different from the others. Has pace and bounce. Some of our shorter batsmen would have to stand on a stool to face him,” said Dhoni in a humorous vein.

India’s strength is its batting, however, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, with his genuine two-way swing, and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin too could turn out to be ‘impact’ players for India.

Pakistan has enterprise and talent in its younger bunch but would seek runs from the experienced Misbah and Younis Khan.

Both sides would want to avoid temperamental flare-ups and channel their aggression. “Aggression should only reflect in performances,” said Misbah.

The match would be a special occasion for the Chepauk crowd but it would miss its favourite cricketing son — Sachin Tendulkar

The squads (from): India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), G. Gambhir, V. Sehwag, V. Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S. Raina, R. Sharma, R. Ashwin, R. Jadeja, I. Sharma, B. Kumar, A. Dinda, S. Ahmed, A. Mishra, A. Rahane.

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), I. Farhat, N. Jamshed, M. Hafeez, Younis Khan, U. Akmal, S. Malik, K. Akmal, U. Gul, S. Ajmal, M. Irfan, W. Riaz, H. Sohail, J. Khan, Azhar Ali, Z. Babar, Anwar Ali.

Match starts at 9 a.m. (IST)

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