An India - Pakistan clash in World Cup 2019?
The clarion call is still fresh in the minds. No more sports activity with Pakistan is the instruction. Not that there have been any direct bilateral sporting links with that country of late but conundrums did arise when any continental or inter-continental sporting programme become the issue. But things have gone on without so to say hurdles thus far, the latest being the World Hockey Championship which India hosted in Bhubaneshwar last year where Pakistan participated. In any case when we talk of sporting ties between the two countries it is generally hockey and cricket that comes to the fore for competitions in these two sporting fields often lead to heightening of passions and never-ending debates and discussions. With the latest happenings in Pulwama and the repercussions thereafter around the border, the focus is back on such sporting activity and feelings are already running high: the reason, the World Cup cricket is away just two months from now in England and India has to play Pakistan there!
The reactions from many in the aftermath of the latest upsurge were expectedly on aggressive lines. Many in the Indian cricketing fraternity felt India should boycott the initial league match against Pakistan! It did not matter to them that India would lose two points straight away. Veteran cricking great Sunil Gavaskar, however, took a more moderate path. He was quoted in a news channel expressing the view that great teams would ignore things happening outside and instead focus on the task in hand. Meanwhile, current cricketers are clear that they would stand by what the government and the BCCI decide. That is the view of the skipper Virat Kohli. Government view anyway is the bottom line.
Be that as it may, the preparations for shaping the team which has been on for some time seem to have reached the final stages. The current Australian limited overs series in India is just about helping the Selectors to firm up on what the team would be like. In the recent past, the media has been full of speculations on who would be in or out. Critics and experts have been out in strength holding nothing back. Cricket, after all, is a sport that in India is such a wonderful pastime, not just on raising topics on what is happening on the ground but off it too. Not surprising then that K.L. Rahul once again came into focus. Much has happened, not all positive, for this Karnataka player but one thing that has to be admired is the steadfast backing that he continues to have. Gavaskar always believed this young man has loads of talent but in the shorter version was he a good bet was the question. He showed a bit of his mettle though in the initial T20 match with his fast scoring and effortless stroke-play. T20 matches may not strictly fit into the plans for preparations of the ODI World cup ahead nonetheless, the effort must have done a lot of good to Rahul's confidence not to forget the encomiums he gathered.
Australia may have won clean the two-match T20 series, an event that set the ball rolling for the more important ODI series. And into the ODI format now, the visitors must have just had one glimpse of what the home team capability can be after losing the first match in Hyderabad. What stood out in that match was the ability of the Indian bowlers in particular Bumrah, Mohd Shami and Kuldeep Yadav to restrict the Australians to a modest score. That in itself is a big boost. Then came the Indan middle-order batting which flowered and helped India to finish the job in style. Often when the top order totters the task becomes stiff. Many a times this has seen India court failure. But M.S. Dhoni and Kedhar Jadhav showed that judicious playing could do wonders. Much has been said of Dhoni's inability to match the level of his yesteryear performances. At 37 years, critics point to his age and question whether he can be effective. The man has an answer for all the doubters and at Hyderabad he showed he still has the strength in the arms to cart the ball around and legs to run the quickest of singles. Jadhav will vouch for that! With Rohit Sharma and Kohli himself showing good touch even if not extended stay, the feeling must have been one of satisfaction overall in the Indian camp. But there are still matches ahead and time for more experiments too!
Indeed, even as every country tries to firm up on player-selection for the various positions in the team, it would also wish to ensure it does not reveal all its ammunitions in the process. In this run up to the main event, it would seem that more than the result in the series is the importance of utilising the opportunity to get the probables into action and get the selection process into the final act. It will be interesting to see how many more players strike it rich for India by the time this five-match ODI series ends.
Still, in the end, what lies ahead remains in the domain of speculation! BCCI's effort to get the ICC involved and somehow ensure Pakistan could be kept away, has not had any takers. Will India decide on dropping two points by not facing Pakistan? It does not stop there. What, as one cricket expert said, would happen should by any chance India and Pakistan progress well and find themselves face to face again in the semi-final or final? Imponderable lies ahead!