Mohali, presents the look of a fortress. The arena, as well as its surrounding areas have received a major beef up in the security measures that are in place. That, is one among the many indications that this semifinal encounter between India and Pakistan will be a real epic battle. Pakistan, the most unpredictable line up since ODI cricket took birth, has kept its date with the semi-finals. Led by the timeless warrior, Shahid Afridi the team has rediscovered itself from the dumps it found itself in. Within the past month, it has found a leader around whom it could rally. Shahid Afridi has been the fulcrum around which this team has revolved. The captain, has led with charisma and poise, more importantly he has contributed heavily with the ball and become the leading wicket taker of this tournament. He has inspired what was an insipid pakistani bowling attack into one among the most potent in this competition. That Umar Gul, who has been brilliant in taking 14 wickets himself has been overshadowed by the exploits of Afridi speaks for itself. This is a bowling attack that is high on confidence.
It is fitting perhaps, that meeting this team and standing in its way of possible glory is arch-rivals India, who posses an extremely strong albeit brittle batting order. The top 3 though, have fired more often that not and this in itself has carried India through to the semis. In Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir, the indians have found the answers to many a bowling attack. Steyn and Morkel and later on Lee and co have faced the brunt of this top 3. Sachin, the ageless veteran is looking for that one missing crown in his career. Sehwag, perhaps the most explosive and feared batsmen in contemporary times and Gambhir, the southpaw who provides a solid bridge between the top and the middle order. In these 3, India have found success and hold the key to their fortunes. Umar Gul has specifically sounded out these 3 for special treatment and this will be a most entertaining battle to watch.
The weaknesses, of both teams lie in what has not been discussed so far. India, have still struggled to end their innings on a high, and have stuttered especially in the batting powerplay. Their bowling too, with the exception of Zaheer Khan and part-timer Yuvraj Singh has been very ordinary. Munaf Patel, has lacked in variation and consequently he has suffered. Ashwin, has been a true revelation and remains a trump card especially in the power play overs. To choose between Chawla, Sreesanth, Nehra and Munaf Patel is going to be the toughest choice to make. Harbhajan Singh, despite his lackluster form is still a natural selection and one hopes that the Turbanator shows what he is truly made of.
The Indian fielding though, hasn’t been half as bad as what they have been made out. Admittedly, they did appear jaded during their initial league games, but they did pick up their standard during the last games against West Indies and Australia. One hopes, that they at least maintain the same level come tomorrow.
It is expected that India will opt for a 7-4 lineup, with Nehra likely to come in for the under performing Munaf. Dhoni though might also take a gamble in bringing in Sreesanth instead. The nature of the track, makes one think of Yusuf Pathan but it is hard to see who may make way for him. Raina, has clearly grabbed the chance he was given and it would be unfair to push him out now. That means, Kohli might perhaps sit out if Dhoni decides to bank his faith on the top 3 and focus on muscle power down the order.
As for the Pakistani camp, rumors of Shoaib’s bad behavior have done the rounds, and it remains to be seen if he comes in for Wahab Riaz. No other changes are expected as Pakistan will want to keep the winning line up intact from their demolition of the West Indies the other day.
With the Prime Ministers of both the countries watching, as well as a bevy of other celebrities, there is no short of excitement or pre match build up to this encounter. More than a million on either side of the border will be glued to their screens. A fitting match is expected to match the grandeur of the occasion. It truly doesn’t get bigger than this.
India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Suresh Raina, 8 Yusuf Pathan / R Ashwin, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra
Pakistan (probable): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Asad Shafiq, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi (capt), 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Saeed Ajmal / Abdur Rehman, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Wahab Riaz / Shoaib Akhtar.