Perennial political rivals India and Pakistan will face off on a Manchester cricket field on Sunday in one of the World Cup’s most hotly-anticipated and massively-watched games.
The nuclear-armed neighbours have gone to war three times since independence in the mid-20th century – and another conflict nearly erupted earlier this year, giving an even spicier-than-usual geopolitical backdrop to the sport.
But the game was still the first World Cup fixture to sell out – hours after tickets went on sale for the 19,000-capacity stadium – and millions more will be watching at home.
India captain Virat Kohli and his Pakistani counterpart Sarfaraz Ahmed have played it cool, saying the players are only focussed on the game – despite obviously being aware of the hype.
“As soon as we step onto the field, its professional cricket … for us it’s just another game you need to win as a team,” Kohli said at a pre-tournament captains’ session with reporters. “Eventually it’s a game of bat and ball and that’s what you need to focus on.”
Sitting next to him, stumper Sarfaraz nodded in agreement.
Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar named Mohammad Amir biggest threat for India and wants Indian batsmen to throw caution to the wind and bat aggressively against Pakistan s in-form pace trump card Mohammad Amir in the marquee World Cup clash on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t go in with a negative mindset of playing dot balls against him. If you get an opportunity, I would encourage India to play their shots and stay positive,” Tendulkar said.
“It’s not about survival but rather going out there and even defend positively. No need to do anything different. We need to be aggressive in all departments. The body language is important – the bowler knows that you re in control if you defend confidently,” he added.
Tendulkar feels Pakistan, who have won just one of their three matches so far, will be targetting Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma on Sunday.
“Amir and Wahab Riaz will definitely target their wickets early on. But Rohit and Virat should also be looking to play long innings. The plan should be that the rest of the guys play around them,” he added.
Former Pakistan fast bowler Waqar Younis expects his team to bring back leg-spinner Shadab Khan for Sunday’s clash against arch-rivals India in Manchester to revive their World Cup campaign.
Pakistan went with a four-pronged pace attack against Australia, relying on the part-time spin of senior all-rounders Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
The duo conceded 86 runs in their combined 11 overs with only one wicket as the 1992 champions lost by 41 runs in an erratic display.
“Shadab is the key man in this side and I think they will look to bring him back in against India,” former Pakistan captain Younis wrote in a column for the International Cricket Council.
“They might go for five bowlers, use four pacers and Shadab and drop someone like Shoaib Malik.”
Shadab dismissed Jason Roy and Joe Root in the thrilling victory over England but was left out against Australia who subjected Pakistan to their second loss in four matches.