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Mercurial Pakistan plot India upset Published: 29 March 2011

One Day Internationals do not come any bigger than this.

When India host their great adversaries and neighbours Pakistan in the semi-final of the World Cup the whole cricketing world will be transfixed.

The fascination that greets every encounter between these sides is absorbing enough, but the juxtaposition between their current incarnations only adds to the spectacle.

Pakistan, for various well publicised reasons, have become a talented but erratic group of nomadic cricketers while India have risen to the top of the world game.

But Pakistan, led by Shahid Afridi, have played with an unnerving sense of calm for the vast majority of this tournament and will be confident of pulling off an upset.

Neither side have any injury worries, though both may make subtle changes to their teams, with Shoaib Akhtar and Yusuf Pathan pushing for a place in the XIs.

Bat v ball

In a purely cricketing sense, the match is the battle of the best bowling attack in the competition with the most powerful batting line-up.

India’s plethora of batting riches have scored effortlessly on some docile pitches with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh all among the top ten run scorers in the competition.

Five India batsmen have scored more runs in this World Cup than Pakistan's top scoring batsman, Umar Akmal - and that doesn’t include captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Contrastingly, no Pakistan batsman has made a century in the tournament.

Mountains of runs, backed up by the world class bowling of Zaheer Khan makes India good enough for most sides on flat sub-continental pitches.

But Pakistan have the bowling ammunition capable of ripping through any batting line-up, particularly when they find their rhythm.

In Afridi they possess the tournament’s leading wicket taker with 21 while Umar Gul has collected 14 at an average of just 14.50.

Four of their bowlers have gone for fewer than four runs an over in the competition and only Shoaib has conceded more than five runs an over.

Key battle - Umar Gul v Virender Sehwag

Sehwag sets the tone for India at the top of the order and has hit all but one of his first deliveries in the competition so far for four.

Gul is more effective with an old, reverse swinging ball, but with Shoaib out of the side he has also been asked to provide impetus with the hard ball as well.

The early wicket of Sehwag or Tendulkar - particularly if India are chasing - could upset the co-host's rhythm and really get the Pakistani’s moving.

Verdict

Pakistan are the outsiders but that is more a reflection of their mercurial nature than the balance of talent on view.

Their batting can be brittle and they will need some runs from the experienced pair of Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq in the middle order.

If the coin lands on his side Afridi may wish to bowl first and hope his attack can restrict India to an achievable total on what is set to be a flat Mohali track.

The pressure on Dhoni’s men is always suffocating but this clash will take it into overdrive.

India only need to remember their last World Cup semi-final at home in 1996 when they were on the way to defeat before the game was abandoned and awarded to opponents Sri Lanka.

Dhoni’s laid back persona rubs off on his side though and if any team can handle the weight of expectation, it is India.


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