Sunday, July 25, looms as D-Day for the Pakistan team. Defeat against India will see them knocked out of the Asia Cup. Doom and gloom for many, I expect.
But the team itself will not accept that fact and they have been working very hard in preparation. Training has been intense and focused. Defeat can have two results, despondency or determination, and it has been interesting to see how determined the Pakistan team has become during the preparation phase.
Determination alone, however, may not be enough to beat probably the most talented Indian side ever. The long batting lineup and youthful, vibrant bowling attack make up the ingredients for a winning combination. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are a proven opening partnership and also a devastating one. Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Kaif, and Yuvraj Singh make for a dynamic middle order, and the tail is not worse either.
The return of Harbhajan Singh strengthens their spin attack and I suppose India will have a selection problem as to which attack is the better to field on the night. The young bowlers Irfan Pathan and L Balaji are proven wicket-takers, but still young.
This is a team well respected in cricket circles around the world. So the Pakistani task seems almost insurmountable. How then do we approach this game under these odds?
Simply, first of all we have to look at the strengths available to Pakistan. Inzamam-ul-Haq is a giant amongst batsmen in world cricket today. In Mohammed Sami and Shoaib Akhtar there is potential and the duo could strike up a world-famous opening pair similar to the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Freddie Trueman
and Brian Statham, Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith. This is the goal they would like to achieve.
In Yasir Hameed there is an exciting young batsman backed up by the experience of Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan. Moin Khan has plenty of experience as a wicket-keeper-batsman, so there is plenty of ability, and after the stinging defeat of the other night, they will be trying very hard.
The key, however, is to relax, enjoy the pressure of the big occasion, focus on the job in hand, work hard every ball, and to make use of that serious talent they have.
The pitch will also be a factor, but not an issue. It looks a good batting pitch and chasing at night seems to be just as easy as batting first, so the toss should not be a factor!
Much has been made of the Indo-Pak rivalry and it resembles (on a much larger scale) the many traditional rivalries that cricket has. I have been involved in a few and the Ashes clashes were always the games to play in. Kent v Sussex, Yorkshire v Lancashire, Transvaal v Western Province in South Africa always stir up the juices of the supporters and create that extra motivation for players.
This will obviously be my first experience of this clash and it will be very interesting to be part of it. It will be another special cricketing experience. But this is on neutral territory, so the passion of the spectators will not be so intense.
I have also been staggered by the intense media coverage for the Asia Cup and it shows just how the game has changed over the years. At the risk of being boring, I can remember when the main issue for the media was to report on the game and not the individual rivalries. Now, of course, the Tendulkar v Akhtar battle will be a focus for all fans.
For us though, the focus must be on the cricket, the game, the ball, and the joy of being on the pitch. There are so many people living every ball. Who will be the heroes and who will be the villains? Like a good book, everyone wants to know the ending, but to endure the ball-by-ball drama is very hard. Expectations, disappointment, elation, will be just a few of the emotions that will pervade millions of households as the game unfolds on TV.
D-Day for Pakistan it is, but also for India. If Pakistan win, then they have to beat Bangladesh to go through. There is a lot to play for. In the midst of all the hype, we still have to remember that it is only a game!
Did I really say that? As a coach, it is important always to study the game and try not to become too emotional as the bigger picture is the team and how it can improve. One game among many is merely part of that process.