The excitement amongst locals and cricket fans flocking to Ahmedabad is quite apparent when one mentions about the India-Pakistan clash of the 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup happening in the Narendra Modi Stadium on Saturday.
Scores of Indian fans, decked in the blue jersey, are leading the cheering and shouting across the city in support of Rohit Sharma & Co, who take the field in facing off against the Babar Azam-led side in front of 1,32,000 vociferous supporters, along with many fans tuning in to see the game from their TV sets or streaming apps from all over the world.
Saturday’s match also marks the first instance of Pakistan and India playing an ODI against each other on Indian soil after a decade, thus increasing the anticipation for the high-octane clash. Before the blockbuster game begins, the fans will also be treated to a musical odyssey featuring acclaimed musicians Arijit Singh, Sukhwinder Singh and Shankar Mahadevan.
Pakistan lead India 73-56 in the head-to-head record in ODIs. But India has the upper hand when it comes to World Cups, having defeated Pakistan seven out of seven time at the tournament since their first meeting in Sydney in 1992. It is a jinx which Pakistan captain Babar Azam hopes to break on Saturday.
“The challenge is the match of Pakistan-India. You and the fans and the whole of Pakistan-India are waiting for this match. We are also very excited. I think both sides are trying to do their best.”
“We are trying to see how we can take the wickets of their top-order players and how we can make runs against their bowlers. What matters is that we play our best game on the day,” he said in the pre-match press conference.
Pakistan’s top-order, including Azam, haven’t been hugely amongst the runs, though Abdullah Shafique got a hundred in his maiden ODI World Cup game while chasing a record 345 against Sri Lanka. Mohammad Rizwan, who also notched up a century in that game, holds the key in leading middle-order challenge alongside Saud Shakeel.
With the ball, Shaheen Shah Afridi, who has been below-par with the ball so far, will be aiming to leave a huge impact while running through a right-handed heavy India batting line-up, whose not-so little secret has been falling to left-arm pace.
For India, there is a big boost with captain Rohit Sharma confirming that Shubman Gill is 99% available for Saturday’s clash after recovering from an illness which kept him out of first two games. With Gill now available, India can look to re-unite him with Rohit, who is coming off a scintillating show in New Delhi.
Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul can easily go their way in the middle-overs and pounce on Pakistan’s weak links in their spinners Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz. With the ball, Hardik, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja have been great, while they hope for Mohammed Siraj to be back in his elements quickly.
Overall, numbers and form are in a confident India’s favour to keep their winning run going. Pakistan have given an assured look, but would need everything falling in their favour to break the long-standing jinx against them. A tight clash between the two teams will be the spark which this World Cup and its loyal fans need.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Wasim Jr.