MANCHESTER   -   The vast aisles and the stands of Old Trafford will be brimming with excitement as fans celebrate, perhaps, the most anticipated clash of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.

With their last game against New Zealand being washed out, Virat Kohli’s men will be eager to take the field as they face Pakistan in Manchester on Sunday. While their wins against South Africa and Australia came on the back of all-round efforts, it won’t be an easy start for the Indian top order, which, in the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, will be up against an in-form Mohammad Amir.

With KL Rahul set to open, the no. 4 spot yet again leaves room for discussion, with Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar in contention.

Pakistan, who registered a remarkable win against England, lost to Australia by 41 runs in Taunton. Their bowlers made a strong comeback in the latter half of the innings, but it was the batting effort that let them down. Sarfaraz Ahmed might consider drafting in Haris Sohail into the playing eleven in place of the experienced Shoaib Malik, who has failed in each of his three outings in the tournament so far.

The World Cup head-to-head result, which firmly rests on India’s side with six wins to none, would be of least importance considering the unpredictable nature of the Pakistan team. The Sarfaraz Ahmed led side, which is capable to beat any opposition on their day, will look to produce a result similar to that of the ICC Champions Trophy finals from two years ago.

In Shikhar Dhawan’s absence, Virat Kohli will now have an added responsibility. The Indian captain has often produced his best performances against Pakistan in multi-nation tournaments and will eye another big score on Sunday. Hafeez starred with the bat against England, scoring a quickfire 84 which powered his side to a 14-run victory over the hosts. With Pakistan desperately needing a match-defining innings as they seek their second win in the competition, Hafeez, who averages 48.60 against India, could be their key man at Old Trafford.

Vital toss

It’s been raining in Manchester, and showers are forecast on match day as well. Chasing a total could be a big advantage in these circumstances. Seam bowlers could get appreciable help on a fresh wicket kept under covers, and the chasing team will have a better idea about batting on it. This is the first game of the 2019 World Cup at Old Trafford. Its recent track record has favoured sides batting second.

Bowlers will call the shots

Most of the ODI venues in England have become batting-friendly in recent times. Old Trafford in the industrial city of Manchester is an exception. Only thrice has 300 been crossed at this venue, and the average score batting first since 2010 is 256. Pace bowlers have fared better, but spinners can have success too, because the boundaries are big. Both the teams will want wicket-taking bowlers and good batting technique.

India’s unsettled  top order

Shikhar Dhawan’s fractured thumb has unsettled India’s top order after two good wins. KL Rahul, a late induction into the playing eleven, will now be thrust into the opener’s slot. He has the skill to make the most of this opportunity, but he needs to play in his natural positive manner, setting aside any self-doubt from his failures as an opener in England last year. Vijay Shankar will probably come in at number seven, with either MS Dhoni or Kedar Jadhav taking Rahul’s number four position. India could also replace left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav with Mohammed Shami as a third specialist seamer, considering the conditions as well as the opposition.

Do or die for Pakistan

Two losses to the West Indies and Australia, and a washed-out game against Sri Lanka, have put Pakistan in a do-or-die position in the league. But their great victory over favourites England will give them confidence that they can win every game from here to make it to the semi-finals. The team management will no doubt have a rethink about leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who was left out of the game against Australia. He could replace all-rounder Shoaib Malik, whose batting and off-spin have been mediocre. That will allow Pakistan to retain four pacers.

India’s clean sheet

India’s World Cup head-to-head record against Pakistan is an anomaly, because the two sides have always been well-matched. Pakistan have never managed to beat India in their six previous encounters, including the 1999 World Cup game in Manchester. But they will aim to replicate their win over India in the Champions Trophy final in England two years ago.

 

PAKISTAN

Sarfaraz Ahmed Captain

Asif Ali, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, M Amir, Babar Azam, M Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Imam-ul-Haq, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman

INDIA

Virat Kohli Captain

Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, M Shami, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav