Like every time they have clashed in the history of the game, arch-rivals India and Pakistan will be taking fresh guard at Edgbaston tomorrow. With India already in the semifinals and Pakistan out of the competition, the last group B league fixture of the ICC Champions Trophy will only be of academic interest, but only just.
When the Champions Trophy tickets went online for sale in April this year, it took all of 30 minutes for the allocated tickets to be lapped up. The insatiable demand from Indian and Pakistani fans will mean tomorrow's game will be more than a dead rubber. Birmingham is the second most populous city outside of London.
The city is home to a chunky mass of Asian expats whose voracious appetite for cricket has always seen Edgbaston wearing its prettiest frock when India and Pakistan play. At least 90 per cent of the 25,000 capacity crowd is expected to be divided between the sub-continental cricket giants. There are many ways to look at any India versus Pakistan clash.
From an emotional standpoint, supporters of both teams will start from scratch but the final equation will be determined by how the players ultimately perform in the middle. Like any such battle where mind and matter go hand in hand, tomorrow's contest will be unique as it will test both skill and mental toughness of the players. With nothing to lose, Pakistan can be a dangerous enemy. The agony of crashing out of the Champions Trophy after two horrible performances against West Indies and South Africa will be instantly forgotten if Pakistan can beat India, the reigning World Cup champions and the No. 1 ODI team according to the ICC.
Champions Trophy history is, of course, siding with Pakistan. They have never lost to India in six editions of this event. Pakistan's first win in this tournament came at Edgbaston in September, 2004. Chasing 201 for a win, Mohammad Yousuf (then known as Yousuf Youhana) scored an unbeaten 81 to anchor Pakistan to a three-wicket victory with four balls to spare. In head-to-head, Pakistan made it 2-0 against India in the Champions Trophy with a 54-run win at the Supersport Park in Centurion in September 2009.
Shoaib Malik scored a 126-ball 128 to give Pakistan's experienced bowling attack 302 runs to defend. Two run outs -- Gautam Gambhir (57) and Rahul Dravid (76) -- doomed India. Suresh Raina's 46 went in vain as Mohammed Amir, Naved-ul-Hasan, Saaed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi picked up two wickets apiece to consign India to a big defeat.
Purely on form, India have a good chance to pull one back at Pakistan this time. A win will take India to the top of group B with six full points and they will travel to Cardiff to play the No. 2 team in group A. India opened their Champions Trophy campaign against South Africa in Cardiff with a 26-run victory on June 6. Like most encounters between the arch-rivals, tomorrow's match will be a clash between Pakistan's bowlers and India's batsmen.
With rain soaking Edgbaston on Wednesday and Thursday and the sun playing hide and seek, conditions may not be ideal for high scores. But India will back themselves largely because they have posted 300-plus scores thrice in four games, twice in warm-up matches. The toss, therefore, will be crucial as the team batting second will have the advantage of pacing its innings according to the circumstances.
Both India and Pakistan have sound knowledge of the Edgbaston wicket. Riding on hundreds from Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik, India chased down 333 with consummate ease here in a warm-up match against Sri Lanka on June 1.
Pakistan, on the other hand, were shot out for 167, chasing South Africa's 234 for nine in a group league game on June 10. Pakistan's batting has been a serious worry in this tournament. The absence of a grafter in the top-order has exposed the brittle middle-order too soon. Except opener Nasir Jamshed and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, none of the batsmen have fired. Mohammed Hafeez and Malik's poor run with the bat hit Pakistan hard.
India's batting remains their biggest strength.The opening combination of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan has worked like magic. Against quality pace attacks, especially against a South African pace quartet, the duo put on 100-plus stands that gave set up the middle-order to control the innings. Dhawan has been outstanding with back-to-back centuries.
The last time the teams met, Pakistan surprised hosts India 2-1 in a short series in December 2012-January 2013. The left-handed Jamshed made it a memorable tour with back-to-back-hundreds at Chepauk and Eden Gardens. Pakistan won both games. But come tomorrow, the battle lines will be drawn afresh and only pride and honour will be at stake.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Nasir Jamshed, Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Asad Shafiq, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, M. Irfan, Asad Ali, Wahab Riaz, Umer Amin, Abdul Rehman, Ehsan Adil.
Match starts 3pm (IST).