Cricket is not war, nor is it a battle between the competing teams. Like any other sport it is only a game and it should be treated as such whether playing it at club level or for the country at the highest level.

And same goes for those who follow the fortunes of their favourite teams, glued to their seats watching the graph of a team or a player rise and fall or when a towering six sails over the fence or a wicket falls off an unplayable delivery.

Played in its true spirit as any sport should be, a good game of cricket not only excites your sense and sensibilities but also evokes passion and emotion to an extent where one finds it hard to control. Leaping in the air in joy and shedding a tear or two is a common occurrence during a gripping encounter, such as Pakistan playing India.

I am privileged to have played at the highest level for my country and almost at every venue and against every country, and that indeed includes India — our arch-rivals who face Pakistan today at The Adelaide Oval — hoping to maintain their unbeaten record against us in World Cups.

The interest and the excitement in a match when Pakistan plays India takes everyone to a different level which puts into shade even the traditional ‘Ashes’ encounters between England and Australia. It turns out to be not only a game but also a game within the game and one realizes that only by experiencing it first hand.

When I stepped into international cricket in the late sixties, I found it hard to digest that we did not have any cricket relationship with India for a number of reasons. Pakistan’s last Test tour of India happened in 1960-61 under Fazal Mahmood and then a war and political differences got into the way.

Luckily, though, like many of my Pakistani colleagues playing at county level in England, I did have the opportunity of coming face to face with a couple of Indian cricketers like Bishen Bedi and Venkataraghvan who were always an excellent company.

In 1978 when things turned normal again with India, I played Test and one-day cricket against them and realized how tense it was to handle the expectations and aspirations of millions of fans going crazy during the contests.

The fear of losing, the joy of winning and the stakes that it held became a matter of concern, not only for the players but also for those who looked up to us to deliver.

Today’s match, being played at The Adelaide Oval which is one of my favourite venues and where in mid-seventies I scored one of my Test centuries against Australia, will be no different. Personally, and I am being honest about it, I treated a match against India like any other game. Experience had taught me to remain calm and composed during such situations.

My only focus was to perform, win, and make our people proud. But when I looked around while in the thick of it, especially against India, the highly charged atmosphere and the swooning fans around me sent my adrenalin pumping and made me more determined to deliver.

Against India I seldom failed, except in one series in India on the 1979 tour. When the first Test series between the neighboring countries resumed after eighteen year-gap in a series in Pakistan, I finished with 583 runs, then a world record for a mini series, scoring 176, 96 and 235 in successive innings against the Indians.

As a Pakistani player I expect similar commitment by all those who wear a Pakistan cap. No matter at what level you play, the focus should always be on victory. We all know the unpredictability of the game, be it a Test or an ODI but what matters most is the approach, a positive frame of mind and focus on a game which in the end has to have a loser and a winner.

The present Pakistan team is no different from others in this competition except for the fact that they are tagged as the underdogs. No harm in that. We were in a similar situation in 1992 as well, but came from behind to be the eventual winners.

The team that plays better on the day in a limited over game wins. Given a lucky day Pakistan can surprise many, even the Indians who boast to have never lost to us in a World Cup game.

We need to rely on the ability of our players available who are no less talented than the rest. If that warm-up match against England is any indication of Pakistan’s potential, then it is possible that Pakistan may come up trumps and strike the first blow and break the jinx against a tiring India.

It is important, therefore, to make sure whether Misbah-ul-Haq’s men bat first or go for the chase to keep their nerves in control. Survival at the wicket is the essence of successful batting. Our batting does pose a problem because of lack of consistency. At least four of the batsmen need to make sizeable contribution. A good start is important when batting first and chasing runs.

Ahmed Shahzad, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi and Srafraz Ahmed have the ability and so does the bowlers. Though not in full force, they can restrict Indian batsmen if they bowl a good line. I only wish that Yasir Shah features in the final eleven. The Adelaide wicket would suit him. And Pakistan’s fielding has got to be tightened to achieve the desired results.

India with their powerful batting and its depth with Rohit Sharma, Shekhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and of course MS Dhoni are potential threats but their bowling lacks thrust after Ishant Sharma is gone. Ashwin and Jadeja, the spinners need to be handled with care.

The balance, though slightly, is tilted in favour of India but there’s always is a first time. Such is the nature of the one-day game.

Published in Dawn February 15th , 2015

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