ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) – Cricket’s version of a gladiatorial streetfight will play out on Sunday when defending champions India take on arch-rivals Pakistan in a high-voltage World Cup clash at the Adelaide Oval.
Millions of passionate fans across the world will follow the Pool B match which organisers said was sold out in 20 minutes despite an uninspiring build up by both teams.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India start their campaign desperate to bounce back after a miserable bilateral tour of Australia where they were beaten 2-0 in the Tests and did not win a match in the subsequent tri-series.
Pakistan have had their bowling attack decimated due to injuries and the reluctance to rush back one-day cricket’s number one bowler Saeed Ajmal despite the off-spinner being cleared of a suspect action.
With seamers Umar Gul and Junaid Khan sidelined with injuries, Pakistan suffered a severe blow when the seasoned Mohammad Hafeez was ruled out of the tournament with a calf injury.
Lanky paceman Mohammad Irfan — the tallest man to ever play international cricket at 7 feet, one inch — will lead the bowling attack that includes leg-spinners Yasir Shah and Shahid Afridi.
With India in disarray, Pakistan will seek to end their winless World Cup streak against the neighbours — five successive defeats since 1992 — with renewed hope.
Skipper Misbah-ul Haq, who like Afridi will quit one-day cricket after the tournament, will be inspired by Pakistan’s title under Imran Khan when the World Cup was played Down Under in 1992.
“If we play as well as we can, there is no reason why we can’t win again,” Misbah, 40, said when asked if his team can repeat the magic of 1992. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
Misbah, playing only his second World Cup, said he was determined to change his team’s fortunes against India.
“What happened in the past will not count. There is no reason why we can’t win,” he said.
Pakistan go into the game under a cloud, however, after eight players — including Afridi — were fined for breaking a team curfew.
A winning start for either team will boost hopes of taking one of the four quarter-final spots from the pool which also includes mighty South Africa, the West Indies, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates.
In their last one-day meeting a year ago in the Asia Cup in Dhaka, Pakistan snatched a dramatic one-wicket win with two balls to spare after Afridi smashed Ravichandran Ashwin for two sixes in the final over.
Dhoni, 33, will hope his and his team’s luck changes following the birth of his first child, a baby girl, in a New Delhi hospital a week before the tournament.
India will rely on their free-stroking batsmen to make up for a relatively modest bowling attack to put it across Pakistan in what is expected to be a run-laden pitch at the Adelaide Oval.
The current squad has just four players — Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ashwin and Dhoni himself — who were part of the winning combination four years ago.
But the nucleus of the side is the same which won the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in England in 2013 and finished runners-up to Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh last year.
In Rohit Sharma, the only batsman with two 200s in one-day internationals, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Raina and Dhoni, India have the firepower to demolish the best attacks in the tournament.
But having lost their most experienced seamer Ishant Sharma with a knee injury, Dhoni may turn towards all-rounder Stuart Binny to balance at attack that has three frontline spinners, Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Akshar Patel.