Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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An edge-of-the-seat contest is in the offing as arch rivals India and Pakistan take on each other in the semi-final of the World Cup at Punjab Cricket Association (PCB) here tomorrow.

The hype and hysteria surrounding the contest has further raised the stakes and despite the repeated assertions by the team managements, players are feeling the heat.

Adding to the pressure on the teams will be the fact that the Prime Ministers of both the countries are specially arriving here to watch the match.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Shahid Afridi have asserted that their sides will give their best and have urged fans to treat it like any other game but the two captains know that it is easier said than done as the passions are running high and the stakes are sky-high.

Both teams are former champions and the desire to regain that status has created unbelievable pressure.

For the record, India has beaten Pakistan four times in World Cup matches and the visitors from across the border have a happy memory of the PCA ground having beaten the hosts twice on this ground.

With the teams in good form, both captains face a similar problem: which set of fast bowlers to play. India have a choice between the misfiring Ashish Nehra and the unimpressive Munaf Patel to partner

Zaheer Khan, while Pakistan are yet to take a call on fielding Shoaib Akhtar alongside Umar Gul.

No team likes to fiddle with a winning combination, but local conditions cannot be ignored either. It means that conditions in Ahmedabad or Colombo may not necessarily be the ideal for Mohali.

For Shoaib, who will almost certainly pull the curtain down on a roller-coaster career after this tournament, it will be one last chance to play his favourite role, that of glory boy. He was a minor part in Pakistan's early run but has been on the bench for their last three games and it is unlikely that he will play tomorrow.

For India, Patel should have walked into the playing XI given his nagging accuracy and wicket-to-wicket line but he has not been very incisive. However the problem is that Nehra and Shantakumaran Sreesanth are not good alternatives.

This semi-final thus boils down to a battle between India's batting and Pakistan's bowling. There are several Indian batsmen in the ICC's top 20 ranking list while there isn't a single name from Shahid Afridi's line-up.

India's progress so far has been due to their batsmen, while Pakistan have found their men of the moment on virtually a match by match basis.

Yet, the two teams are all set to play for a place in the finals.

The deciding factor here, as is the case in all such do-or-die occasions, is nerve, and the ability to tough out a situation. Pakistan look a happy unit.

India's top three - Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir - have to give their side a solid start. Pakistanis realise that this trio is dangerous so they will do everything to get rid of these three as quickly as possible.

The bowlers Zaheer, Harbhajan, part timer Yuvraj Singh will have to bowl well and the side will have to raise the level of their fielding.

As Dhoni admitted that Pakistan has a very good bowling attack, Afridi feels that his side has some good and experienced batsmen.

"We are a compact side," said Afridi adding that his bowlers are well aware of India's batting strength.

India cannot afford middle order batting collapses like the ones which they suffered against South Africa and the West Indies.

Pakistanis are not going to give them any quarters. Pakistan has a good bowling attack but the strong Indian batting line-up has the wherewithal to negotiate it.

But the hosts will have to be weary of their rivals batting. Underestimating them in this department can prove costly.

Teams (from):

India: MS Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth.

Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan.

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