MANCHESTER  -  The Pakistan cricket team Friday formally kicked off the preparation against the much-awaited World Cup clash against India at Old Trafford, Manchester. The team arrived at the stadium early morning, only to be welcomed by another bout of rainfall that kept conditions wet and forced Pakistan to train indoors.

The boys in green practised in five different groups at the Old Trafford’s indoor nets facilities as chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq joined the coach, Mickey Arthur, for another round of discussions.

Having looked at the brown-wicket, which seems decent for batting, Pakistan may go back to Shadab Khan — their main spinner — the final XI for the match. However, a final decision would be taken Saturday evening. Meanwhile, the Indian have also arrived in Manchester and were scheduled to hold their pre-match practice session on Saturday.

India and Pakistan have had tempestuous relations since their birth as independent states. There have been wars, skirmishes, bad-natured exchanges, and prolonged diplomatic standoffs.

Captured Indian pilot takes centre stage

Before their clash, this simmering neighbourly conflict has spilled into social media and TV advertising. A Pakistani channel has produced a tongue-in-cheek advert poking fun at the Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was shot down in February during the first publicly acknowledged dogfight between the two countries in 48 years.

During his time in Pakistani captivity Varthaman was interrogated while drinking a cup of tea. The official government video shows him politely refusing to answer questions, with the words: “I’m sorry, major, I’m not supposed to tell you this.” He praises the beverage as “fantastic”.

In the ad, an actor wearing a blue Indian cricket top and sporting Varthaman’s distinctive gun-slinger moustache recreates the scene. The spoof pilot is invited to go. As he walks off, he is told to leave the cup behind. The hashtag #LetsBringTheCupHome flashes across the screen.

Many Indians have taken a dim view of the spoof, describing it on Twitter variously as mocking, cheap, abominable, degrading and racist. “Every country should respect another’s soldier and his bravery,” Geetansh Thandela wrote, denouncing the ad as shameless.

Indian newspapers and websites have reported extensively on the row. Some Indian cricket fans have responded with teacup memes. Not everyone has been indignant, though. The Indian tennis player Sania Mirza suggested both sides should get a little perspective on what is, after all, a sporting event.

She tweeted: “Cringeworthy ads on both sides of the border seriously guys, you don’t need to ‘hype up’ or market the match anymore specially with rubbish! it has ENOUGH attention already! It’s only cricket for God sake, and if you think it’s anymore than that then get a grip or get a life!!”

Pakistan will play India at Old Trafford on Sunday in the hugely anticipated match. Thousands of rival supporters are expected to pack the ground in Manchester, and hundreds of millions more will be glued to the game on TV on the subcontinent.

In real life, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, released Varthaman as a gesture of goodwill. The wing commander was handed back at the border crossing at Wagah in the Punjab region. He has since become a national hero, with his moustache style reportedly copied by enthusiastic admirers.

The game was still the first World Cup fixture to sell out - hours after tickets went on sale for the 19,000-capacity stadium - and millions more will be watching at home. While playing down its significance, players on both sides know that for volatile fans, they can become an instant hero with a century or an overnight villain with a dropped catch.

Pakistan are the undoubted underdogs, having never beaten India at a World Cup, not even when they won the title in 1992.

Risking Injuries to save runs:

India’s players will risk injury to save just one run in an overall quest to win the World Cup, says coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar, that reflects the true intensity of the game. “They are willing to risk injuries to save a run, which is a great quality to have,” said fielding coach Sridhar. “They put the team ahead of themselves. We have fielders who can intimidate any batsman.”

Both sides have fallen victim to the bad weather in the UK this week, with India’s match against New Zealand abandoned without a ball being bowled and Pakistan missing out on their game against Sri Lanka. Sridhar says it has been “frustrating” for all sides in the tournament but backed the decision to call off the New Zealand match. He said: “It’s uncontrollable, isn’t it? You really can’t control the weather. I went on the ground. It was almost like a skating rink.”

Pakistan must win a match which is likely to draw a global television audience of one billion and saw more than 700,000 people apply for tickets.