High voltage: India, Pakistan set to kick off Cup campaigns
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — The India-Pakistan rivalry goes way beyond the boundaries of the cricket field, with the geopolitical overtones transcending the World Cup.
Regardless of any diplomatic posturing, the packed stadium and a television audience expected to be in the hundreds of millions, the only thing that really matters to India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni in his first match as defending World Cup champion and to veteran Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq is the competition points.
Pool B gets under way with a match at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday that many players and supporters of both countries consider just as important as the final.
India has won all five of the previous head-to-head World Cup matches since 1992, when Pakistan rebounded to go on and win the title.
Dhoni, despite a team that hasn’t won a competitive match in two months in Australia, is confident of extending the streak against Pakistan to 6-0. Misbah believes he has the team to break the drought. Both expect the Adelaide match to set the tone for the tournament.
“Starting with Pakistan ... it will be a high-voltage game,” Dhoni said. “It’s one of the most prized games when it comes to the ODI format.
“It’s a perfect scenario to start, and the guys, they’ve got enough experience in the conditions, so I think it will be a good one.”
The 40-year-old Misbah has only played at one World Cup, scoring a half-century in the semifinal loss to India in 2011 and averaging almost 50 in his eight innings. He doesn’t think his team carries any scars from previous Cup defeats.
“Obviously India-Pakistan is always all about pressure,” said Misbah, who has won seven of the 16 limited-overs internationals he has played against India. “The best thing we can do is just enjoy the game, enjoy the atmosphere, go there, play your game, be positive.”
Taking advantage of the so-called “cricket diplomacy” opportunities this week, India announced it was sending its top foreign ministry official to Pakistan to resume talks after a six-month hiatus.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted Friday he spoke with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and offered to further strengthen ties. Sharif welcomed a proposed visit by a senior Indian official “to discuss all issues of common interest.”
Misbah said the secret to success would be to ignore all the fuss — on and off the field.
“I think it is the way to go that you just don’t take anything into the ground when you are playing against India,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about what’s happening outside, what’s going on in the countries. I think you need to focus (entirely) on your game.”
India greats Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have spoken about the importance of the game and its elevated status at the World Cup.
Former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq described it as being “like a final before the final, not only for fans but also for both teams,” adding that India was under pressure to maintain its record against Pakistan and Misbah was under pressure to change history.
He suggested the outcome could come down to the toss of a coin, noting that India had won the toss in four of the previous five World Cup encounters.
“I can’t find a suitable word to describe what goes wrong when we chase against India, but it’s more like a mental blockage of players on which I’m sure Pakistan team management will be working on,” he said.
Neither team enters in winning form. While India’s winless run in Australia has been well documented, Pakistan lost a recent ODI series in New Zealand.
Both teams have also struggled with injuries, with India losing paceman Ishant Sharma and Pakistan without Mohammad Hafeez and Junaid Khan due to injuries.
Pakistan opener Ahmed Shezhad hurt his right arm during a practice session on Friday, but he was cleared of serious injury.
Dhoni said India had no injuries to report and was confident of turning around their form in Australia, simply because they’re now familiar with the conditions.
“It’s not really about stats. As far as the preparation in the dressing room is concerned, it looks just fantastic,” he said. “And all to the fact that when we play Pakistan there’s definitely more intensity on the field. It will be a perfect scenario for everyone to raise their level of performance.”