This is an iconic match, an encounter that millions of cricket fans look forward to with great interest, enthusiasm and anticipation. Some call it ‘an absolute box-office game’, others ‘mother of all games’. Commentators say it is now the biggest game in the international cricket arena, much bigger than the England-Australia matches have been in days gone by. It is therefore no surprise that today’s (Sunday’s) match at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham between India and Pakistan as the second Group B tie of this year’s ICC Champions Trophy has become a sell-out.

But, because in the modern day, politics goes hand in hand with sports as well, these two neighbouring cricket fanatic countries have not played any bilateral series for a number of years. India has refused to play and even consider the idea until there is an end to ‘cross-border terrorism’.
The last time these two teams played an ODI was in February, 2015 during Cricket World Cup in Adelaide, Australia when India won by 76 runs. Their last international encounter was in February last year in a T20 World Cup fixture in Kolkata again won by India by 6 wickets.

There have been off-field distractions for the Indian team prior to this game. There are rumours of a rift between skipper Virat Kohli and his players and the coach Anil Kumble. It has been reported that Kumble has indicated that he no longer wants to remain as coach. The Indian Supreme Court appointed head of CofA is in England to talk to the players and the coach in an attempt to diffuse the situation.

The Indians, the defending champions, come into this tournament with an impeccable record of victories in Champions Trophy in England, winning seven of the eight matches played. India is a strong contender to win back-to-back Champions Trophy with a very powerful batting line up which is oozing with confidence after a successful stint by their players in the recently concluded IPL. Australia is the only team that holds the record of winning the Champions Trophy twise in a row in 2006 and 2009. India’s classy batting line-up comprises Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and the veteran MS Dhoni – names that can cause headaches for any opponents. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the leading spinners in the team, are also capable of making useful contributions with the bat. They also possess an enviable fast bowling attack – Bhubneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah are fully capable of taking advantage of the English conditions.

Pakistan, on the other hand, are in the process of transformation and reorganisation after the departure of iconic figures like Shahid Afridi, Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Huq from international cricket. They have also replaced Azhar Ali with wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed. The batting line-up includes apart from these two, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammed Hafeez, Babar Azam and the veteran Shoaib Malik. Babar Azam it must be said has proved to be a promising find. The bowling attack will be led by left-hander Mohammed Ameer, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz. Imad Wsim’s accuracy can play a big part and the rapidly-improving Hasan Ali could be their leading wicket taker. The bowling department is expected to provide the real challenge to the Indian batsmen.

India is stronger than Pakistan but matched between these two teams are high-voltage matches with players feeling the intense pressure. The team that can overcome the nerves will come out trumps.

One would hope that the Indian players will not be distracted by events off the field and like true professionals do the job that they have come for – that is, play positive cricket.

The Indian and Pakistani communities are eagerly waiting for this match and the interest will be evident not only in Edgbaston but also in Birmimgham City Centre at a fans’ park where the match will be broadcast live. The organisers are expecting 8,000 people will be assembling at Victoria Park on Sunday to experience what will be first fan park set up for an international cricket tournament.

History places great pressure on both the captains and players in today’s (Sunday’s) match. A victory is very important for either team for a place in the semi-final.

One would only hope that rain does not play spoilsport in Edgbaston as it did in the Australia-New Zealand clash on Friday

Uday Sankar Dasis a senior journalist.

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