India vs Pakistan
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Shahid Afridi |

The high octane Indo-Pak Champions Trophy 2017 clash is now upon us, and like most cricket fans around the world, I can’t wait for Sunday’s tie at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium.

Everyone knows what kind of attention a match between these two teams always gets, especially in an ICC tournament. It is one of those matches in which every move is dissected and each performance from either side is discussed for years to come.

Led by Virat Kohli, the Indians possess a formidable batting line-up that can flay any bowling attack on its day.

As a passionate Pakistan supporter, it’s natural that I would want my team to finish on the winning side against any team, and especially against India. However, recent history and the depth of the India squad gives it a slight edge heading into the game.

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India’s fearsome batting

Led by Virat Kohli, the Indians possess a formidable batting line-up that can flay any bowling attack on its day. Kohli’s credentials as a top-order batsman are known to all and he has played some memorable innings in the ODI format. I have vivid memories of his sublime century against us in the 2012 Asia Cup, while he was at his absolute best in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 clash at Adelaide, laying the foundation for an Indian win with a masterful hundred.

For me, bowling to Kohli was always a challenge and Pakistani bowlers would have to be on top of their game against him. They must try and attack, especially when he is new at the crease. If Pakistan dismisses Kohli cheaply, it will significantly increase its chances of restricting India to a low score.

While Kohli is the backbone, India possesses considerable firepower around him. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, and MS Dhoni are all match-winners and capable of churning out exceptional performances.

Dhoni’s experience and the incredible ability of finishing games will hold Kohli in good stead, especially in crunch situations.

I am really pleased to see my old friend Yuvraj return to the international fold with renewed hunger and passion for the game. I wish him the very best and hope to see him play in his usual belligerent way. Yuvi is a treat to watch when in full flow and some of his shots leave you awestruck. I do hope though that he reserves his best for the games following the opener against Pakistan!

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Even in the twilight of his glittering career, Dhoni remains a potent force with the bat. His experience and the incredible ability of finishing games will hold Kohli in good stead, especially in crunch situations.

Sharma and Dhawan form a formidable opening pair and both have the potential of scoring big hundreds.

To succeed against India, Pakistan’s bowlers would need to keep chipping away with wickets at regular intervals – you can’t afford to sit back since the likes of Yuvi and Dhoni are in the middle-order and the presence of the duo gives India real batting depth.

The bowling strength

While batting is India’s traditional strength, it is also fielding a balanced bowling attack that includes some skillful bowlers led by the wily Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinner has truly come of age and has become a pivotal part of India’s recent successes across the three formats. Ashwin has great control and bowls an impeccable line and length which troubles the best in the business.

Bumrah reminds us of our pacers of yore who had mastered the skill of bowling the perfect yorker, especially during the 90s.

He gets great support from the left-armer Ravindra Jadeja, who has been another vital cog in the Indian line-up in recent years. The conditions in England might not suit spinners much but both Ashwin and Jadeja have the quality and accuracy to make run-scoring difficult for batsmen.

The spinners will be complimented by what I feel is a more than capable seam bowling line-up led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.

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Shami is the quickest of the pace attack and can make the ball bounce awkwardly while Kumar can make the ball swing. He is also a shrewd operator who makes life tough for batters in the slog overs as we saw in the recently concluded Indian Premier League.

I am hugely impressed by the skill set and temperament of young Jasprit Bumrah. He bowls what I call the ‘Pakistani Yorker’ almost at will. He reminds us of our pacers of yore who had mastered the skill of bowling the perfect yorker, especially during the 90s.

Bumrah has a wise head on his young shoulders and looks unfazed even when the batsmen are plundering runs. I think this year’s IPL has raised his stature considerably and Pakistan’s batsmen, as well as all opposing teams’, need to make concrete plans of countering his threat in the ICC Champions Trophy.

Let the best team take the honors, and more importantly, let it be an entertaining and memorable battle that provides rich entertainment to billions around the world.

India enters the game against Pakistan on a high and has the ‘favourite’ tag. However, the ‘Green-shirts’ can surely spring a surprise with a committed and passionate performance according to present day cricket requirements.

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I’m hoping we all get to see another memorable contest that befits the India-Pakistan rivalry. Let the best team take the honors, and more importantly, let it be an entertaining and memorable battle that provides rich entertainment to billions around the world.

Shahid Afridi represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 98 T20Is between 1996 and 2016. He played in five World Cup, six World Twenty and five ICC Champions Trophy tournaments. This article was first published at www.icc-cricket.com.

Shahid Afridi represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 98 T20Is between 1996 and 2016. He played in five World Cup, six World Twenty and five ICC Champions Trophy tournaments.

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