Shahid Afridi of Pakistan bowling during the first ICC 2011 World Cup quarter-final against West Indies © Getty Images
Shahid Afridi of Pakistan bowling during the first ICC 2011 World Cup quarter-final against West Indies © Getty Images

 

By Dhananjay Devasper

 

The pleasant ambience of Chandigarh will be the cynosure of not just the nation but the entire cricketing world when India takes on Pakistan in the much-awaited semi-final of the 2011 World Cup. This much-anticipated match will bring life in the two countries to a standstill as jingoism will reach a crescendo.

 

India made it to the penultimate round by toppling the Australian juggernaut, while Pakistan has shown the kind of consistency and unison that one has not seen in a long, long time.

 

Those outside the two teams cannot possibly imagine the amount of pressure they will be under to win this one match – for many, THE final before the real final.

 

Even though history at the World Cup competitions is against Pakistan in its meetings with India, you can trust these teams to play a match which will go down to the wire. It’s a test of one of the best bowling teams in the tournament against one of the best batting teams.

 

While emotions will run high and volatile on-field exchanges to be expected from some of the more colourful players from both sides, it’s best to keep the end goal in sight and perspectives right. So what does India need to do to overcome this hurdle?

 

For starters, treat it as a normal match against any other country, though many may disagree on that. Understand the softer aspects of your opponent. Pakistan has the highest wicket taker in the tournament in Shahid Afridi. One of the biggest reasons he is successful is because he makes you play his game and dance to his rhythm. He has this tendency of breezing through his overs and not allowing the batsman any time in between deliveries to think measures to counter him – a strategy brilliantly and productively employed by the great West Indian off-spinner Lance Gibbs. It’s a clever, much-thought-out ploy of the Pathan, who once forced batsman Mohammad Azharuddin to tell him, “Bade bhai, thoda time deke dal!” What Azhar meant was to give him time to settle down before he could face the next ball.

 

Afridi gets very jittery at the start of his run-up when he is made to wait by batsmen. Essentially this disturbs his rhythm and thereby makes him susceptible to giving away a few runs. Many teams forget this aspect of his bowling in their preparations. Let’s hope the Indian think-tank is aware of this and will take steps to break the rhythm of Pakistan’s most successful bowler in this championship.

 

It pays to stay calm and approach the game practically – something easier said than done, given the tsunami of hype and expectations. But in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Gary Kirsten, Team India is blessed with two of the calmest people one can find in the world of cricket. That’s a huge factor in India’s favour as these two men don’t allow the situation – however tense – to get the better of them. In sharp contrast, Afridi gets very excited and demonstrative and even tends to lose his cool on the field against his own players.

 

India has to beware of surprise factors like Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Razzaq. It cannot take them lightly since the two men have this uncanny knack of performing at the big stage, especially against India.

 

Finally, India must play Shantakumaran Sreesanth. Munaf Patel is now a proven liability. On a Mohali track, Sreesanth could prove to be a handful. The downside is that he could go for runs like Munaf. But the upside is, Sreesanth is a better fielder and can bat with a degree of confidence better than Munaf.

 

So here’s to an absorbing contest that promises to entertain and enthrall one and all

 

Stay tuned…

 

(Dhananjay Devasper is an “IT guy” by profession and a sports fanatic at heart. He has an unbridled passion for sports and Indian achievements in sport. Extremely opinionated, he attempts offering perspectives around sports which are simple to understand and easy to relate with)