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CLOSE-IN: India versus Pakistan is the Blue Riband of Cricket World Cup 2023 (IANS column)

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CLOSE-IN: India versus Pakistan is the Blue Riband of Cricket World Cup 2023 (IANS column)October 13, 2023“All roads lead to Rome,” in this case it is Ahmedabad for the titanic clash between India and Pakistan on October 14. The match is the Blue Riband of the 2023 Cricket World Cup. One may not see full houses occupying seats at most stadiums during this major tournament, however, the Narendra Modi Stadium will be filled to the brim. With nearly 130,000 spectators watching the match, the atmosphere would surely be one that will awaken the gods from above.The wonderful path to this riveting encounter is that the Indian and the Pakistani sides seem confident, having won both their earlier matches.The Indian side looks like a team on a mission with all their players having contributed in some form or the other in both their matches.They seem to be geared and ready for the fray. Pakistan, on the other hand, did salvage themselves from what looked like a difficult chase, to convincingly to do so in surpassing a mammoth 344 runs total scored by Sri Lanka. The redeeming factor for them was they did it without assistance from their ace batter and captain, Babar Azam.Babar and Shaheen Afridi, the former a world class batter and the latter being one of the world’s best fast bowlers, have still not made animpact on this World Cup. The odds for doing so are in their favor and Pakistan will be looking to them to do it against their arch rivals, India.The irony of this momentous cricket battle is that it somehow translates itself into a war like situation rather than remain a sportingencounter. The players of both the sides, who off the field are friends and respect one another, become foot soldiers with just one aim andthat is to either succeed or perish. The sword of Damocles seems to hang over each one of their heads. This is when the connoisseurs of the game, famously identify it as differentiating the “Men from the Boys”. To fail in this match is a nightmare that cricketers from both the sideswill need to bear for years to come.India has a fabulous record against Pakistan in the World Cup matches. They have never lost in any of the matches before. This may be good onpaper, however, the pressure of sustaining this record could be an additional burden on the Indian players. The expectation of a victory isa tall order to fulfill. Win or lose, both Pakistan and India have the fire power, knowledgeand arsenal to qualify in the final four. This World Cup schedule and the format of each team playing one another will be an arduous journey for all the 10 teams. The beauty of this tournament this time around is that the teams are far more equally matched. Therefore, there is no time for a breather or for experimenting. Every side will need to put their best eleven on the field at all times. This is where fitness and fatigue will play a major part.Pat Cummings, the Australian captain, has so rightly brought this up and especially with regards to bowlers. Good wickets, fast outfields andfield restrictions have led to totals that one earlier felt were adequate enough to protect one’s score. Never before has one seen such a plethora of sixes and fours and number of centuries scored by batters. One feels that the ODI format is at present enormously in favor of the batsmen rather than the bowlers. The toll on the body of the fast bowlers will be quite severe and this to me will finally be the deciding factor in a team winning the trophy.The initial matches have shown that batting can be a paradise if one plays sensibly. The ODI has enough overs for a side to recover from if one has a slight hic-cup in the early overs. The middle order batsmen are playing an important part either in recovering from an early loss of wickets or in teams posting a good total. One now does not need to have a pinch hitter as all batters have skilled themselves adequately to hit the ball over the rope. The T20 experiences has been a boon, as teams seem to panic less even if the run-rate is high to chase.Furthermore, it has brought about an additional dimension of stroke- play, ones that were rarely seen before, that has brought more life into the game.The One-day Internationals one never thought would become a match wherein both sides together would total over 600 runs without blinking an eyelid. It is truly an exciting time for cricket in general. There is a transformation that is taking place to make it more spectator friendly. This will definitely augment well for the sport.The inclusion of cricket into the biggest sporting arena, the Olympics, will be a giant step in popularizing cricket world-wide. However, in the meanwhile, the focus of billions of Asian cricket fans around the world will have just one sight in mind and that is the sporting encounter between the two Asian giants of cricket, Pakistan and India.One can just visualize the noise, the roar and the thunderous applause when the biggest cricket stadium in the world will host the match of the World Cup’23. One hopes this is only a precursor to a final that could in all respect be played between these two sides later. Win or lose, cricket will be the true winner.(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)-IANSbchttps://ians.in/detail/close-in-india-versus-pakistan-is-the-blue-riband-of-cricket-world-cup-2023-ians-column–20231013090954/

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