India v Pakistan: The men who matter

Al Jazeera takes a look at the potential matchwinners as the hype builds ahead of the hottest rivalry in world cricket.

Sachin Tendulkar will be looking for his 100th one-day century when he faces Pakistan [GALLO/GETTY] 

Never has a cricket fixture been contested and fought so fiercely as India vs Pakistan.
On Wednesday, all eyes will be on Mohali as the pair lock horns for a place in the Cricket World Cup final.

It is estimated that more than a billion people will watch the game.

Bazaars and businesses on the subcontinent will be put on hold, schools will be cancelled for the day and everything else in the world will be forgotten for a short while for this one showpiece occasion, which many see as bigger than the final itself.

It will be Pakistan’s first match on Indian soil after the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, which stopped any subsequent tours between the two – although they have played in international tournaments such as the ICC Champions Trophy.

Ever since India beat Australia and Pakistan downed the West Indies in the World Cup quarterfinals, pundits have been weighing the chances of each.

Social networking sites like Twitter went into meltdown and there has hardly been a household, workplace or village which isn’t totally engrossed with the tie.

Pre-tournament favourites India will have the backing of the fanatical home crowd, and preparation for Dhoni’s men has been smooth sailing so far.

They breezed through the group stages and possess the best batting lineup in the tournament.

Desire to win

Their disposal of holders Australia showed their desire to win under intense pressure.

India have never lost to Pakistan in World Cup finals.

Afridi has held Pakistan together after being parachuted into the captaincy [GALLO/GETTY]

They will go into the match as firm favourites and are odds-on to lift the coveted trophy come April 2.

Preparation for Pakistan coming in to the World Cup was nothing but chaotic.

Shahid Afridi was named as skipper just a week before the start of the tournament and many had written of their chances of progressing.

But Pakistan are a mercurial and maverick side, who tend to play better when their backs are against the wall.

Their performances have been mesmerising, producing a brand of cricket full of vigour, skill and flair.

They beat fellow semifinalists Sri Lanka on their own patch during the group stages, ended Australia’s impressive unbeaten 34 game run, and nothing was more impressive than their comprehensive win against the West Indies in the quarterfinals.

While India may contain the best batting lineup, Pakistan equally possess a bowling attack full of artistry, guile and killer instinct, which makes the battle between the two sides even more mouth-watering.

Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has been the standout bowler. Hopeless with the bat, genius with the ball, Afridi is an enigma.

He has done a commendable job in keeping the side together as a unit, despite being assigned the job at the last minute.

He has taken 21 wickets now and has the ability to grab the tournament by the scruff of the neck than any other player.

India’s inspirational leader Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be vital. A fearless and devastating batsman, Dhoni’s calm demeanour and innovative tactics are a measure of his outlook towards the game.

Despite not having much luck with the bat during the tournament so far, on his day he can be a matchwinner.

Pakistan’s premier batsman Younus Khan has it all. A classy and energetic right-hander, Younus brings experience and stability to a fragile batting lineup.

He could be the difference between the two sides and the man India will need see the back of quickly.

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the phenomenon that is India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Possessing every textbook shot in his armoury, he is on course for his 100th century in one-day internationals.

Umar Gul has taken over the mantle from veteran Shoaib Akhtar as Pakistan’s main strike bowler. Suspensions to Mohammads Asif and Amir has put extra pressure on Gul, but he hasn’t shirked away from the responsibility and is arguably the best death bowler in world cricket.

Indian seamer Zaheer Khan can be a thorn in the Pakistani top order and India would need him to call upon all his vast experience to further their cause.

The most effective left armer since Wasim Akram, Zaheer can be unplayable at times and has already picked up 17 wickets in the tournament.

Umar Akmal is the one to watch. The younger brother of wicketkeeper Kamran, Umar is an aggressive batsman and has the ability to destroy any bowling attack. He bats with verve and determination, culminating to a crescendo of blistering cricket shots.

Yuvraj Singh – the man who hit the winning runs against Australia –  will need to show the same heroics against Pakistan come Wednesday. Like Umar Akmal, Yuvraj can decimate any bowling attack and is unstoppable once he gets going.

Forget bragging rights, there’s a place in the final at stake here.

It’s an explosive match between two exciting and talented teams with world class players on show, all wanting to prove their worth.

Asam Shah is a UK-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @AsamPlusONE or see his website:

Source: Al Jazeera