‘It’s the pressure of an India match that hurts us'
‘I think we have to bowl well against India because they are a good batting side’
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq tells Chandresh Narayanan that his team will break the jinx that has haunted them in five of the last six editions when they take on India in their World Cup opener on February 15.
There is a sense of desire, hunger and motivation in the Pakistan camp -- to beat India in their World Cup match and break that hoodoo, that jinx, that barrier which has haunted them in five of the last six World Cup editions.
Ask their chief selector Moin Khan, coach Waqar Younis, captain Misbah-ul Haq or any player in the 15-man squad and he will say: this time history will change.
Till the 1992 World Cup the arch-rivals had never met in a World Cup match. Then, on their way to the title win, Pakistan met their archrivals for the first time in a mega event match and lost at Sydney.
The 1996 encounter was more highly-charged as it was played in India. Here too India came up triumphant.
The 1999 World Cup match was seen as suspicious. India then beat Pakistan again on their way to the runners-up finish in the 2003 event. The last time they met opened the door for India's second World Cup title. To say the least, India overwhelmed Pakistan again.
Out of the five defeats, Pakistan lost chasing on four occasions, but Misbah believes history will change this time around when they meet in Adelaide on February 15, a day after Valentine's Day, in a no love lost sort of match.
'Every bowler is gunning for the Indian batsmen'
Misbah is also very confident.
“Everyone wants us to win the match and we are confident that this time history will change,” he says.
But why is the match against India is so different?
“I think it’s different because of the involvement of the fans. It is difficult because we don’t get to play India more than we, say, play Sri Lanka. There are huge expectations from the fans of both the teams and that is why there is added pressure. It is not difficult cricket-wise, but it is difficult pressure-wise and expectation-wise.”
Ask newcomer Ehsan Adil or the recalled Sohail Khan, every bowler is gunning for the Indian batsmen. Ask the batsmen and they want to show their best at Adelaide.
Misbah said the team wants to change history.
“We will do our best to do that. There is always the first time and we are gearing up to change history. We will try to put an end to that sequence. Why we lose? I think its one-off. Sometimes such things happen. There must be the pressure of an Indo-Pak match and that’s why this sequence has come up, but I am sure my team will do its best to end that jinx. “
'It became a norm that we aren’t able to beat India in the World Cup or World Twenty20'
But why has Pakistan never beaten India?
Even Misbah didn’t know the answer. He was involved in three key games – twice in the inaugural World Twenty20 and then in the semi-final at Mohali. On all three occasions he became the villain, as he failed to win the match for his team.
“It’s tough to answer,” he said. “It happened twice to me in the World Twenty20 and I can’t forget that because I got the flak on both the occasions despite making a match out of it.
“I think it’s the pressure of an India match that hurts us. It became a norm that we aren’t able to beat India in the World Cup or World Twenty20. It happens when you take a match that seriously. For me it’s always one-off; if we play two matches then it would not have happened. Our team is now more inclined to change that sequence.”
'I can’t single out Kohli or Rohit or Dhoni'
So what is the plan against India?
Misbah said his team will try to play normal cricket, restrict the Indian batting which is a powerhouse.
Who does he think will shine? Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma?
“I think we have to bowl well against India because they are a good batting side,” he opined.
“I can’t single out Kohli or Rohit or (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni. They are all dangerous, and if anyone of them stays long enough they can score 150-plus. We have to pay attention to all batsmen and can’t target any one. The kind of form Suresh Raina is in I am sure he too can create problems, and so is (Ajinkya) Rahane; they are all good, so we have to bowl well against them.”
The aftermath is also significant. Fans of the losing side get devastated, and those whose team ends up as winners go ecstatic.
So what is Misbah’s message?
“I will request the fans to enjoy this match. Don’t feel tense! Cricket is one game which cannot be watched or played in a tense atmosphere. Applaud those who do well but don’t castigate those who can’t.
“After all, it will be a cricket match!”
(Apostrophe Content and Entertainment)