Tuesday, March 29, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Dream Semi-Final Preview

With the quarter finals dusted, for a fleeting moment, all other things in cricket will be insignificant. History won't matter, the other teams won't matter, the looming grand finale won't matter. Nothing matters but this moment, the two biggest rivals in international cricket, the biggest of all grudge matches, the one that promises to be the greatest semi final clash of all time. That moment, bearing down upon us, is India vs Pakistan.

Who will be left standing? © AFP 

The Last Meeting
They last met nearly a year ago in Sri Lanka in an Asia Cup match, with Harbhajan smashing a six off the penultimate delivery to clinch a tight thriller. The second last encounter was half a year before that, with Pakistan throwing India out of the Champions Trophy thanks to a Shoaib Malik century. Curiously neither Malik or India's best batsman on the day, Rahul Dravid, are in this world cup. These two have not been playing frequently, and like caged panthers are eager to get at each other.

The Last World Cup Meeting
Believe it or it, it was eight years ago when Sachin Tendulkar tore apart an attack that read Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, Razzaq and Afridi. That game too was after a massive gap between the teams, and it was one of the most memorable world cup thrashings anyone can remember. India went on to race to the final while a strong Pakistan outfit were sent crashing home.

The Last World Cup Meeting In India
Track back to 1996, in another spectacular match in Bangalore. India for once played as a team (did somebody say corruption?), and set Pakistan a decent total. Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar began carving the Indian bowling in such a brutal manner that the Chinnaswamy was rendered laughingly mute. Until this happened.

The mother of all brain explosions, and the rest as they say is history (of course, until this happened not long after).

Where Does India Stand?
India continue to deceive. Sachin Tendulkar has been saving their batting from blushes, with the likes of Sehwag and Gambhir relying on the slog-out-of-trouble, and the lower order in pure unadulterated IPL mode, barring the steady Yuvraj Singh. Zaheer meanwhile is rescuing their bowling, disguising how woefully inept Munaf, Harbhajan and most of their fielding is. Don't let the Indian commentators fool you, this is a team running on three players. Much of India's success came down to opposition failures.

Where Does Pakistan Stand?
I never thought I would call this side balanced, but they are bowling beautifully, with a varied and classy bowling attack. Notice how they actually turn the ball (take note Sanjay Manjrekar, and stop kidding yourself with Bhajji). They field adequately, but only an inch ahead of India, and the batting has been just enough, albeit nothing impressive. One must never forget though that this is a team containing Afridi, Razzaq and Umar Akmal, if even one of them has a good day, India do not have the bowlers to do anything about it. Afridi to open maybe?

The Clashes
Forget Sam Worthington, in the battlefield of cricket we have the following titanic match ups to savour:

Gul vs Tendulkar/Sehwag
How will India's big guns at the top respond to controlled and quality pace bowling? If Shoaib gets a crack at them too, it will be a great opening gambit.

Afridi vs Yuvraj, and Yuvraj vs Afridi
A unique contest, the bowler who pretends to bat versus the batsman who pretends to bowl. Who is the bigger pretender? We also have the Bollywood Superstar (BS) Award, with Afridi the hot favorite.

Kamran Akmal vs His Hands
What a crucial battle this is! Will Kamran's hands be made of cast iron? Will he rattle up the local heroes with his sharp tongue? Will we see 'The Face'?

© Getty Images

Razzaq vs Everyone
And in the background, quietly minding his own business, the Silent Assassin looms. The stage is certainly ripe for the ninja to strike.

Who Will Win?
Forget the form books. Given that this is an India-Pakistan match, each of the players will find an extra 10% from somewhere. It will be unpredictable, it will be intense, it will be turbo charged. The Pakistani PM will be there, along with the token slew of Bollywood actors, some on the field. I don't know who will win, and to be honest, does it even matter?

Forgetting Something?
Fine fine, Sri Lanka to beat New Zealand in a 2007 semi final rematch.

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