MANCHESTER: Sunday’s World Cup match against arch-rivals India is a gilt-edged opportunity for every Pakistani player to etch his name into cricketing folklore, coach Mickey Arthur said.
The soldout clash will be Pakistan’s seventh attempt to beat India in a 50-over World Cup match and South African Arthur has reminded them the bigger rewards that await them if they can break the jinx.
As bilateral cricket remains suspended because of political tensions, the neighbours meet each other only in ICC events with emotions running high in both countries.
“It doesn’t get more exciting,” Arthur said of the hotly-anticipated contest at Old Trafford.
“I’m telling our players in the dressing room, ‘you could be a hero tomorrow. Your careers are going to be defined by a moment in the game. You do something incredible tomorrow, you’ll be remembered forever.
“Our mantra is ‘how do you want to be remembered?’ We’ve got 15 incredible cricketers in that dressing room, and we keep stressing to them ‘how do you want to be remembered? You’re the class of 2019. What are they going to say about you in history?’
“And tomorrow presents an unbelievable opportunity for these guys to really make a mark.”
Arthur’s approach was in contrast to that of India captain Kohli, who sought to play down the hype around the match.
Inconsistency has again plagued Pakistan’s campaign with Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men shocking hosts England but going down to West Indies and Australia.
The “perfect match” that Arthur demands from his team has not materialised but their victory over India in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy at the Oval could be an inspiration for Pakistan.
“That’s a long time ago. We’re concentrating at the moment on our own games because we know, if we put three disciplines together, we can beat anybody in the world,” Arthur said.
“We haven’t put the perfect game together yet. Our disciplines have been good with the bat, have been okay with the ball and okay in the field. If we put the perfect game together, we can beat everybody.”
Arthur took charge of a mercurial Pakistan side in 2016 following his stints with South Africa and Australia.
Since then, the 51-year-old said, he has tried to bring in more consistency but was not too unhappy with the side being branded “unpredictable”.
“I like to think we’ve become a lot more structured as a team. I think there’s been a lot more role clarity given to players…
“I certainly think our gap between being very, very good and very bad is a lot closer, and I do think that we’re playing a game now that is a little bit more consistent.
“But that unpredictability tag always sort of hangs around the Pakistan team, and that makes us very exciting.”
Kohli plays down Amir duel and hype around Pakistan contest
India captain Virat Kohli swatted aside talks about a duel with Pakistan speedster Mohammad Amir and played down the hype around Sunday’s World Cup blockbuster between the arch-rivals at Old Trafford.
There has been plenty of hype surrounding Sunday’s sold out contest but Kohli refused to fuel it further.
“I think the best way to approach something like this… it’s not going to last a lifetime for you, whether you do well or you don’t,” Kohli said.
“Our tournament, whether we do well as a team tomorrow or we don’t, is not going to finish… So I think the focus always has to be on the larger picture.”
Kohli understands the fan sentiments but said the players have learned to cocoon themselves from the elevated expectations.
“I can’t tell the fans to think in a particular manner. For us, it has to be a professional approach to the game,” said the 30-year-old.
“We can’t get emotional or over-excited with any occasion. Obviously the player’s mindset is different from the fans and you can’t mix these two.
“From fan point of view, looking at the atmosphere and frenzy around the game, I wouldn’t say it is easy to think like a player but for the players it’s very very crucial to be absolutely professional.”
An interesting sub-plot will be the showdown between Kohli, the world’s top ranked ODI batsman, and Pakistan’s pace spearhead Amir who claimed five wickets against Australia in Taunton.
“You may not believe me but I see only the red or white ball, not the bowler delivering it,” said Kohli.
“You should always be wary of the strength of an impact bowler. You should also have the self-belief to do well against any bowler.
“Also, the match won’t be decided by my runs or his wickets. There are 10 players on each side, they also have to play well. I’m not entering any personal contest or competition,” he added.
“You got to play well regardless of the bowler. Even part-timers will get you out if you are not playing well. I keep my game simple.”
Kohli acknowledged Pakistan have “a lot of talent” in their ranks but preferred to talk about his own team instead.
The threat of rain looms large over Sunday’s match as well and Kohli said weather would influence India’s combination.
“The conditions and length of the game will obviously make us consider a few combinations that we could potentially go with in this match.”
“We’ll have to be flexible… If conditions are very different from what it was in our last game, we’ll have to think of different combinations, identifying areas to strengthen, especially in our bowling attack.”
Stumper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who flew in as cover for injured opener Shikhar Dhawan, joined rest of the Indian squad in their training session under an overcast sky at Old Trafford.
India clash is ‘must-win’ for Pakistan, says Gavaskar
Pakistan will be the team under pressure in Sunday’s World Cup clash against arch-rivals India and will face a mammoth task to reach the semi-finals if they lose, according to former Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar.
Pakistan have lost two of their four games and are eighth in the tournament standings. Their only win came against hosts England and their match against Sri Lanka was washed out.
“It’s a must-win game for them,” Gavaskar told the World Cup website. “If they don’t win tomorrow, it’ll be very tough.
“The fact it’s an old rivalry means it will be followed closely by the people of both countries, but Pakistan have had a bit of a stumble so far so there’s probably a bit more pressure on them.”
With the threat of rain looming large over Sunday’s match in Manchester, Gavaskar said India will start as favourites to extend their six-match winning streak over Pakistan at 50-overs World Cups.
“If it’s a proper 50-overs game I think India have the strength to win,” he added.
“But if gets truncated, if it’s a game that gets reduced to 30 overs or less, anything can happen.”