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Misbah's men poised to rewrite history?

Vibes from Team Pakistan are overwhelmingly positive

ADELAIDE–February 14, 2015: This may only be the first ICC World Cup 2015 game for both the top Asian sides, with five more to go for each to stake a claim for an almost for-granted spot in the knockout stage. But none of the rest is quite as high voltage as this.

Even before a single ball has been bowled, the rivalry’s status as the greatest drawcard ever in the game’s history has been established.

Nearly 54,000 shall be packing the stands in the state-of-the-art Adelaide Oval, and the studied projections put it at well above a billion people witnessing the action unfold before the eyes live through satellite channels across the globe, making it the most-watched-cricket-game ever.

And this probably does not include those who would be eagerly clued in via cellular handsets or digitally through live-streaming and ball-to-ball commentary on myriad web sites.

The feel in this quaint little city is of great anticipation – of something electric about to take place. Expatriate enthusiasts backing up the two sub-continental rivals are hugely overexcited (an understatement, if ever there was one) almost in equal measure, quite obvious from a look at those swarming the training sessions or the InterContinental – the hotel overlooking the lovely stadium with the river in between where both teams have been put up by the ICC. For the Aussie hosts in terms of security, total vigilance is the watchword, with their federal police and other agencies seemingly in no mood to take any chances.

How would the game unwind, who is going to walk away the winner and commence its World Cup with a bang?

In every World Cup the two sides have played each other – their first encounter dating back to Pakistan’s finest hour in 1992 – India has prevailed over the green shirts. That was the question most asked from skipper Misbah-ul-Haq and others. But like ever, cool as cucumber Misbah, and Team Pakistan’s excellent coaching staff headed by the inimitable Waqar Younis, are shrugging it off with such supreme confidence in their own ability to overcome whatever is thrown at them.

When Team Pakistan stepped out for New Zealand on Jan. 20, its armour seemed to have been made of chinks. There was many a critic holding forth: This was the weakest team ever leaving our shores for a World Cup with the possible exception of 1983.

In about three weeks’ time, despite losing first four and then winning the last two of its games, it seems to have transformed itself to compare favourably against India.

Despite its billing, India has had its own woes. It has not won a single encounter in its last two visits to the Antipodes. Last year, New Zealand overwhelmed it in one of the two Tests, the other being a draw, and 4-0 in five ODIs, the fifth a no-result game. On the recent outing immediately prior to the World Cup, the unforgiving Aussies gave them a pasting in four Tests; subsequently in the tri-series England joined the Aussies in blanking them out. The only positive result for India on this extended trip supposedly to get them best prepared for the defence of their World Cup title has been downing Afghanistan in a warm-up. Though India won at a canter, its bowling still failed to bowl out Afghanistan.

This is neither whining, nor a complaint, but the scales – maybe out of sheer coincidence – were so palpably tilted in India’s favour. Among other things it played both its warm-up games at the venue of its opener against Pakistan, turning it into more or less the former’s home base.

In spite of all that, it seems Team Pakistan would step into the Adelaide Oval on the morrow more self-assured, more buoyant and more poised to rewrite history, with vibes coming from it so overwhelmingly positive.

And why not, combinations in both batting and bowling look well-formed. The entire middle order led by Misbah has been amongst the runs, with Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Akmal looking the part at the world stage. The bowling as a unit looks pretty cohesive, varied and capable of winkling out wickets at will against any batting side. The fielding, the side’s weakest suit almost forever, pulled itself from its bootstraps to shape up well enough against England, and was pretty adequate both off the ground and in the air (Take a bow, Grant Luden).

In the first few days here, Waqar Younis was found putting his charges through hard training and at the same time drilling into them the virtue in finding their grooves and as a consequence some momentum. Today in the last, rather longish, analysis and tactical meeting spread over 90 minutes, Younis’ refrain was: ‘Back your strengths’ – just three words, yet reflecting such dramatic transformation in mindset and perspective.

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).