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Mother of all battles

Mother of all battles
When India play Pakistan at the World Cup, it’s no cliche that both captains say they’re not looking beyond their first game of the tournament. World Cup organisers are tipping Indo-Pak clash to draw the biggest television audience when the teams meet in Adelaide on Sunday in the opening Pool B clash.

The politically uneasy neighbours also have a long rivalry on the cricket field, with Pakistan leading overall in their limited-overs meetings. But defending champion India have a 100 per cent record so far after five World Cup clashes. The two teams first locked horns in 1992, also the last time the World Cup was jointly staged by Australia and New Zealand, and the atmosphere was intense and couldn’t be compared with any other game.

In his autobiography Playing It My Way,  which was released last year, Tendulkar has recalled a 2003 World Cup match against Pakistan, saying he’d waited for the showdown for a full year after the schedule was unveiled and couldn’t sleep for several nights before the match. “The nation would brook no failure and for many of our fans this was the true final. It really did not matter to them what happened in the rest of the tournament,” wrote Tendulkar.

India won that match by six wickets but lost the final to Australia. India got a measure of revenge by beating Australia in the quarterfinals in 2011, then held of Pakistan in the semifinal in Mohali before beating Sri Lanka in the final at Mumbai, where Tendulkar finally added the World Cup crown to his decorated hat in his sixth attempt.

India’s dominance in World Cup matches against Pakistan has confounded critics. The two countries did not meet in the first four editions of the World Cup. In 1992, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, an 18-year-old Tendulkar scored a half-century to propel India to a 43-run win. Though Pakistan lost that match, it went on to win the title.

Tendulkar, who scored a record 2,278 runs in 45 World Cup matches, is the only common denominator in those results, averaging 78 and posting three half-centuries, including a high of 98 in that 2003 match. But he retired in 2013, leaving India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to continue the legacy. Both teams have been conscious to emphasise the rivalry between players is on the field, and there’s no animosity outside the boundary. Yet both teams were publicly silent, holding closed practice sessions as fans from  both sides started flooding into Adelaide. Hotels and flights on the weekend were fully booked, and anticipation was growing.

Commenting on Sunday’s match, Mohinder Amarnath, hero of the 1983 World Cup-winning side, said, “There is not much of a difference between the two teams. Both have good individual players but I will go with the record. India has always done and played well against Pakistan in World Cup. But if India wins this time, it will be because of their batting and not bowling.”

Interestingly, this will be India’s first World Cup fixture against Pakistan which will not feature Sachin Tendulkar. “Tendulkar has been a great player but every player has to retire and you can’t get a replacement of his calibre anywhere. Not only him but players like Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh are irreplaceable,” added Amarnath, who was man-of-the-series during India’s World Cup triumph in 1983.

Four years back in Mohali, Tendulkar (85) again rose to the occasion in a crunch semifinal tie and helped India to a fighting total of 260/9. The home team was well placed to post a superior total but was restricted by left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz (5/46). Pakistan’s response was typical, a strong start followed by a middle-order failure. The onus fell on the reliable Misbah-ul-Haq (56) to pull Pakistan through but he ran out of partners and ultimately was the last person to be dismissed.

No Tendulkar gives Pakistan World Cup hope

India go into the World Cup without the reassuring presence of retired batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar for the first time since 1992, which surely must bring relief to arch-rivals Pakistan. Pakistan have lost all their five World Cup meetings against India and Tendulkar, who featured in all of them, proved a stumbling block on at least four occasions. India and Pakistan face each other in a high-voltage clash at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday to kickstart their campaigns in the 2015 edition of cricket’s showpiece event. Tendulkar, who retired in 2013 as the world’s leading run-getter in both Test and one-day cricket, added colour to the World Cup, both literally and metaphorically. Coloured clothing was introduced to the World Cup when Tendulkar made his tournament debut in Australia and New Zealand in 1992 after the first four editions were played in whites. Over the next six editions, the prolific Mumbaikar scored more runs (2,278) and centuries (six) than any other batsman in the tournament, ending his World Cup career with a creditable average of 56.95.

Indian fans hold a placard for Sachin Tendulkar, who has scored more World Cup runs and centuries than any other player. Tendulkar often spoke of his dream of winning the World Cup for India, saying he was inspired as a 10-year-old by the country’s triumph in the 1983 editon when Kapil Dev’s men stunned favourites West Indies at Lord’s. He saw action from close quarters as a ball boy at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium when India co-hosted the World Cup with Pakistan in 1987, two years before he burst on the world scene as a 16-year-old. Tendulkar was the tournament’s leading scorer when India made the semifinal in 1996 and the final in 2003 before he realised his dream when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side won back the title on a memorable night in Mumbai on April 2, 2011.

Former greats favour India

Legendary cricketers Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Chappell tipped India as favourites in their much anticipated World Cup clash against Pakistan, saying past history and better acclimatisation to Australian conditions could tilt the balance in favour of the defending champions. Both Gavaskar and Chappell said Pakistan are unlikely to break their World Cup jinx this time also, although both sides go into the showpiece event as struggling teams. “Both teams are going into the World Cup not in great touch. Pakistan are also struggling as they had lost to New Zealand recently, it could be even stevens. But I think India will start as slight favourites because of their past records,” Gavaskar said.

He said the absence of off-spinner Saeed Ajmal will have a huge impact on the 1992 champions. “Without a doubt, Ajmal was half the Pakistan side and they will be hit hard without him. He is a wicket-taking and a containing bowler. He is just like Muttiah Muralitharan in his prime days in the Sri Lankan side,” the former Indian captain said. “They (Pakistan) won the World Cup in 1992 but at that time they had so many match-winners in Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq. They don’t have those match-winners in the current team. The loss of Junaid Khan is also a big blow for them. India have been playing in Australia for the past two months and they have acclimatised more to the conditions than  the Pakistanis,” Chappell said.
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