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A lot at stake for India and Pakistan

Skipper Shoaib Malik and his men are aiming to break their World Cup jinx against the archrivals when they take on India in an explosive Group D tie at the Kingsmead Stadium.

Pakistan have never won against India in any World Cup event. Both teams have played 108 one-day internationals with Pakistan winning 64, India victorious in 40 while four ended without any result. In the only ODI between the teams in South Africa, India defeated Pakistan by six wickets at Centurion in the Cricket World Cup 2003. Led by Waqar Younis, Pakistan scored 273-7 and India reached the target with 4.2 overs to spare.

Unpredictable and hugely talented Pakistan have the potential to be as formidable in Twenty20 as they are in longer versions of the game. With match winners like Younis Khan, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik in their ranks, Pakistan can turn the tide of the game with blink of any eye on their day. Discipline and the ability to produce consistently good performances have traditionally been problem areas for Pakistan, but this time around the players are looking to impress. In their opening triumph against minnows Scotland on Wednesday, Pakistan did impress with both Afridi and Umar tearing apart the Scotland batting line-up to shreds.

Now the whole cricket fraternity is looking forward to Friday’s Pakistan-India clash. Captain Malik told reporters here Thursday that games against India were always full of pressure. “No doubt contests against India are always pressure games. But pressure matches are always fun and interesting,” he added. He said Pakistan were beaming with confidence after their opening success against Scotland who gave a scare to the men in green before succumbing to bowling of Afridi and Umar.

Malik said his team would try their level best to beat India in the group match to enter the Super-Eight stage as the top team. “I know that Pakistan have never been able to beat India in the World Cup matches. But this is Twenty20, a different format, and the results are always unpredictable.” He said Pakistan had made a special strategy to thwart the Indian challenge. “For us it is a very important game.

Achieving good results in it will help us in maintaining consistency which is our main target to remain in contention,” he maintained. The Pakistan captain was optimistic that his team would be exhibiting good performance to come up to the expectations of the people. “I know people want us to win against India. And definitely we have to put in extra collective efforts for the victory.”

On the other hand, India, despite resting their big stars Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, are looking forward to mount a major challenge to the rivals for honours and keep their winning spree in the World Cup events against Pakistan intact. India have handicaps in agility and bowling firepower. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni, appointed skipper after regular captain opted out of the tournament, disagrees with this.

He said on paper India looked a weak team without their big stars but it still had potential. “We have such a wealth of cricketing strength that the new guys will take the team all the way.” To a question, he replied he was under no pressure to captain the cricket-mad nation, even if only for the Twenty20 tournament. “I never even dreamt of playing for my country, so to captain India is a massive bonus,” he said.

Dhoni praised the Pakistan cricketers and said they had the ability to turn tables. “But we are not under any pressure against Pakistan because we have beaten them many times before.” Five players who were not part of the touring team in England have joined the team here. They are spinner Harbhajan Singh, all-rounders Joginder Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Yousuf Pathan and aggressive opening batsman Virender Sehwag.

Replying a question regarding winning the toss, Dhoni said: “A lot depends on the conditions but we would probably love to bat first. It’s always better to bat first, and since batting is also our strength, we would like to give the opponents a big total. Also there is a lot more pressure when chasing big totals.” His other approach was to keep it conventional and simple. “If you’ve seen the opening Twenty20 game between South Africa and the West Indies, they played proper cricketing shots. I think it’s important to play it as a normal cricket match. The stress would be on playing conventional cricket and not doing anything extraordinary,” he concluded.

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