Bitter rivals India and Pakistan clash in a World Cup blockbuster in hot and steamy Adelaide on Sunday in a game followed by millions around the world.
Tickets for the match at the 47,000-capacity Adelaide Oval, which was once graced by Don Bradman, sold out inside just 20 minutes in a powerful testament to the pulling power of a fixture between the defending champions India and their Asian rivals, who claimed the title in 1992.
India have won all of their five World Cup meetings with their neighbours and Pakistan’s build-up has been characteristically chaotic.
They are without the world’s top-ranked bowler Saeed Ajmal who withdrew from the tournament after battling to get his action back to within legal boundaries.
AFP / –
Pool B teams in the 2015 Cricket World Cup
Injury ruled out key seamers Umar Gul and Junaid Khan as well as batsman Mohammed Hafeez.
Then, for good measure, star all-rounder Shahid Afridi was one of eight of the 15-man squad to be fined for breaking a team curfew and threatened with expulsion if there was a repeat offence.
“This is a chance to create history,” said Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq ahead of a game expected to be played in temperatures nudging 40 degrees.
“India-Pakistan is always all about pressure. The best thing we can do is just enjoy the game, enjoy the atmosphere, go there and be positive.
“My advice to the team is just go out there and play your natural game. That is the only way to handle pressure.”
India have endured a miserable three months on tour in Australia where they were beaten 2-0 in the Tests and did not win a match in the subsequent tri-series.
AFP / William West
India’s captain MS Dhoni (R) shares a light moment with teammate Virat Kolhi during a training session in Adelaide, on February 13, 2015
But skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Sunday’s high-voltage clash, which he described as a “prized game” on the cricket calendar, was an opportunity for players to transform themselves from zeroes to heroes.
“There is of course more intensity when we play Pakistan because the game is followed by so many fans,” the Indian captain said. “But I see it as a good platform for the team to perform.
“We need to forget the past and try not to make the same mistakes. It’s been a long summer but the positive thing is that we have got used to the conditions. The boys are looking good.”
The current Indian squad has just four players — Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin and Dhoni himself — who were involved in the winning combination four years ago.
AFP / Michael Bradley
South Africa’s captain AB de Villiers, pictured prior to their ICC Cricket World Cup Pool B match against Zimbabwe, at Seddon Park in Hamilton, on February 15, 2015
The Adelaide clash will be keenly followed across the sub-continent — even by Taliban fighters.
“In the past commanders used to watch the Pakistan-India match together and we used to slaughter sheep and socialise with each other, but now things are different and there will be no such meetings over cricket,” one Taliban commander told AFP. “However, we will listen to commentary on radio.”
Over in New Zealand, meanwhile, traditional under-achievers South Africa will look to translate their strength on paper to where it matters — out on the pitch — when they face Zimbabwe at Seddon Park in Hamilton.
Led by swashbuckling skipper AB de Villiers, who hit a world record 31-ball hundred against the West Indies last month, and the prolific Hashim Amla, South Africa also boast a pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott.
“We’re certainly one of the favourites,” said de Villiers. “There’s no hiding from that fact. We enjoy being one of the best teams in the world.”
AFP / Michael Bradley
Zimbabwe’s Tendai Chatara (L) and Chamu Chibhabha celebrate the wicket of South Africa’s Quinton de Kock during their ICC Cricket World Cup Pool B match, at Seddon Park in Hamilton, on February 15, 2015
Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand already have opening wins under their belts.
On Saturday, four-time champions Australia defeated England by 111 runs in front of almost 85,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after New Zealand had comfortably seen off Sri Lanka by 98 runs in Christchurch.