Centurion (South Africa): It will be a high-voltage honour duel between traditional rivals when India, looking in good touch, and a wobbly Pakistan meet here on Saturday in a match whose intensity goes beyond the World Cup stakes. Pakistan, after a poor run in the tournament so far, will seek to salvage some pride. A win over India in the Group 'A' league tie will also keep alive its slender hopes of making it to the Super Six.
India, with a far better performance in the tournament so far, will not only seek to maintain their record of having beaten Pakistan in all the three previous World Cups, but also make their place in the top six absolutely certain. The fact that the two teams would be meeting each other after more than two and half years has only added to the hype around the match, which is widely expected to be another heart-stopper.
The significance of this match is not lost on the players of two sides, who are clearly aware that many in their respective countries would prefer a win in this game to the ultimate triumph in the World Cup. "This is one big game which we must win," Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly said though he tried to reason it out with the explanation that the victory was vital for India because it would enable the team to carry forward the points to Super Six should Pakistan also qualify. For Pakistan, this might just be the match which the players choose to get back to form for there is no bigger inspiration to lift one's performance than to play against India on such a big stage.
Not only the Pakistanis are in a must-win situation, their two legendary bowlers, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, as also dashing batsman Saeed Anwar are playing in their last World Cups and would be eager to sign off on a high and break the World Cup jinx against India. "We want to win it badly. It is a very important match for us. As it is we can't afford to lose any game now in this World Cup. But obviously playing against India just adds to the pressure and excitement," skipper Waqar Younis said.
"I would think it would be the showpiece match of this World Cup and I am confident that we will not disappoint the Pakistan nation," Waqar said. What must be worrying Pakistan is their indifferent batting performance so far, particularly the failure of top-gun Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has scored just 10 runs from four innings, the last two being no scores. However, Yousuf Youhana, one of the batting mainstays, is quite confident that all the players will click in this most important game. "Because we play India after nearly three years in our next game, it should bring out the best in us.
Playing against India should bring us closer together and make us fight harder," Youhana said. "The way I look at it, someone like Inzamam is bound to explode in such a pressure game. Everyone knows he is a quality player and he will soon start getting runs again," Youhana said. The Indians too are hoping that their batting performs at full throttle in this crucial game. Fortunately for them, Sachin Tendulkar is in extremely good touch and looking to get better with every game. Captain Saurav Ganguly has an excellent record against Pakistan and this is a good opportunity for him to silence his critics with a good knock on Saturday.
Many younger players like Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Dinesh Mongia, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan have never played against Pakistan and they too would be all pumped up and excited to do well, realising fully that a good performance would make them instant heroes back home. The Indians might replace Mongia with an all-rounder like Sanjay Bangar or Ajit Agarkar considering that the Punjab batsman has not really justified the confidence reposed in him in this tournament. The Indians certainly have an edge over Pakistan as far as batting is concerned but for the first time they look equally competitive in the pace bowling department too.
Nehra just bowled the spell of his life in the match against England, claiming a career-best haul of six wickets, and is consistently working up speeds of around 150 KMPH. Fellow left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan has been outstanding in recent times, bowling a fiery line, while Javagal Srinath is probably enjoying the best moments of his career. The three form as potent a combination as any in the world and have won quite a few matches for India in recent times. Pakistan would be relying heavily on their pace battery of Akram, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar and hoping they are able to unsettle the formidable Indian batting line-up with early breakthroughs.
Shoaib was all charged up for the battle but denied there was any extra pressure on his team being in a must-win situation. "The must-win situation isn't building any extra pressure on us. Any match between India and Pakistan is hyped sky high. But it still remains a cricket game," he said. However, for the fanatical fans in the two countries, this is hardly just any other cricket game. Starved of the tremendous entertainment ever since India decided to boycott Pakistan due to the cross-border terrorism supported by Islamabad in Jammu and Kashmir, the people are anxiously awaiting this game.
More so, since the two teams are unlikely to play again in near future with India having made it clear that it will continue to maintain a distance from Pakistan on a cricketing field until the cross-border terrorism stops. A number of Bollywood stars have descended in Centurion to cheer the Indian team, which has generated tremendous interest in not only the two countries but the entire cricketing world.