India vs. Pakistan semi final of the World Cup - Monday, March 28, 2011 By: Richard O'Hagan |

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After what seems like a decade of preliminary matches, cricket’s World Cup has finally reached the final four. The second semi-final revisits one of the game’s greatest rivalries as hosts India take on their neighbours – and cricket’s outcasts – Pakistan

There are two huge issues which will decide whether or not they can become the first side to reach a final on home soil sinceEngland in 1979 and most likely face Sri Lanka who play NZ in their semi. The first is the sheer pressure upon this side to win, not only in front of the world’s most ravenous cricketing nation, but in the tournament which will almost certainly be the great Sachin Tendulkar’s World Cup swansong. The second is whether their bowling can stand up to the test of taking on a Pakistani side who have looked better with every passing game. Zaheer Khan remains a potent force with the old ball (16 of his 17 wickets in this tournament have come with it) and the tactic of opening the bowling with spinner R Ashwin worked against Australia in the quarterfinal, but largely because the Australians really don’t play spin as well as they should. The back up bowling, including veteran Harbhajan Singh, has underperformed in the tournament so far and Pakistan have shown that they have the batting to exploit that. Either of these factors could ruin India’s big day.
The problem with Pakistan is that you can never be sure which version of the team will show up. Will it be the band of happy virtuosos who destroyed the West Indies in their quarterfinal, or will it be the squabbling teenagers who sulked their way through one day series in England andAustralia last year? So far, captain Shahid Afridi has managed to keep a pretty happy ship, discarding teenage opener Shahzad when he began causing problems and driving the side on with the force of his own personality, backed by leg spin bowling which has proved deceptively dangerous on these surfaces and leaving him the tournament’s top wicket taker. The danger for Pakistan is that their strength lies in their bowling, with Afridi complemented by the wiles of veteran seamers Umar Gul and Abdul Razzaq, and the spin of Saeed Ajmal, yet they have yet to face a batting line up of the likes of India’s and, if Tendulkar and Co manage to get a decent start, that old Pakistan could easily resurface.
Pakistan have won the last two meetings between the two teams, but political and other tensions between the two nations mean that games between them happen so infrequently as to render statistics almost meaningless. Much could depend upon the toss. India looked much happier batting second against Australia and chasing down a total than they did against the other two big names they have faced so far in the tournament, England and South Africa. In those games they batted first, set decent targets and failed to defend either of them. In which case, expect whoever bats second to win.

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