Finding the right path can often prove hazardous in the labyrinth of knock-out games in the World Cup. Teams can stumble and lose their way in the maze.This, indeed, is a time when some tough decisions may need to be taken. The side that backs its choices with both conviction and courage could emerge victorious.There are a few calculated risks that could be taken by both India and Pakistan ahead of the high-voltage semifinal on Wednesday.The Shoaib Akhtar factor: The old warhorse can still generate speed in short bursts. The ‘Rawalpindi Express’ will not be short of motivation either having announced his retirement after the current World Cup. He would want to depart in a blaze of glory.The image of Akhtar facing off with Sachin Tenudlkar at the Centurion in the 2003 edition of the competition is etched in memory.
The faster Akhtar, thundering in, bowled at Tendulkar, the quicker he was carved to the fence by the maestro. Tendulkar innovated and created with reflexes and timing, upper-cutting a furious lifter from Akhtar for a six.The exceptional Tendulkar has retained his fitness and hunger. Akhtar, however, has been dogged by temperamental flare-ups, fitness concerns and inconsistent form.Yet, he could provide Pakistan’s attack the cutting edge with his air-speed, bounce and the precious ability to make an impact in a big game. His selection will be a high-stakes gamble by Pakistan considering it was Akhtar who sent down a string of full tosses to Ross Taylor as Pakistan imploded in the league game against New Zealand.Someone such as Akhtar could enable the opposition break the shackles imposed by the other bowlers. There are chances too that he could snare a couple of crucial wickets and open up the sluice gates.Will it be Akhtar, an emotional choice as well, or young left-arm paceman Wahab Riaz who will figure in the eleven? Akhtar has the X-factor in his favour, but the Pakistan team-management will think hard — cricket is not ruled by sentiments.
The case for S. Sreesanth: There is a debate for the second seamer’s slot in the Indian camp. Will it be Munaf Patel, who seemed to go off the boil against Australia, or left-armer Ashish Nehra who will figure in the Indian eleven.Munaf might seam the ball on the track in Mohali. Unimpressive in the competition so far, Nehra has the ability to bring the ball into the right-hander, send down telling yorkers.Yet, Sreesanth, a quintessential swing bowler, could prove an inspired selection. The paceman leaked runs against Bangladesh in unhelpful conditions at Mirpur in the opener. Subsequently, he has spent his time on the sidelines.Could Sreesanth move from the periphery to the centrestage? Although, the pitch here should suit batsmen, there could be a measure of assistance for the pacemen from the track and the conditions might encourage swing.With an ideal wrist and seam position, Sreesanth can test the Pakistani batsmen with his lateral movement from an off-stump line.
There might be some early freshness in the pitch for the pacemen if the Indians field first. And there are chances that the ball could dart around under the lights here. The evening moisture on the track could get the ball to skid.If India follows the ‘horses for courses’ theory, the selection of Sreesanth might prove an aggressive ploy against the Pakistanis. The batsmen from across the border are more comfortable against spin than well-directed swing and seam bowling. In fact, there have been occasions when the Pakistani batsmen, caught at the crease or playing away from the body, have collapsed against swing and seam delivered with precision.Sreesanth could combine effectively with the in-form Zaheer in a potent right-left pairing of contrasts. There is also a possibility that the ball will reverse here.The inclusion of Sreesanth could delay the induction of the impressive R. Ashwin by a few early overs but the off-spinner could still have a significant role to play in the bowling and batting Power Plays.
On the flip side, Sreesanth’s inconsistency works against him. He often goes for glory and concedes easy runs in the process. And in a high-pressure game such as this World Cup semifinal between two traditional rivals, ‘control’ is a precious commodity.The role of Intikhab Alam: The Pakistan manager comprehends every blade of grass at the Punjab Cricket Association ground. After all, he was the coach of the Punjab team in the Ranji Trophy not so long ago. The former Pakistan captain’s inputs to the side on the conditions would be of immense value.Alam, former leg-spinning all-rounder and Pakistan captain, is calm, affable and adds immense value to the side. Strategically, his role will be crucial.Meanwhile, the players are seeking calm ahead of the storm on Wednesday. The Indian cricketers are receiving pep talks from experts on the mind.There is so much to an India-Pakistan duel. – Thehindu