Pakistan v India: Brave New World Meets End of an Era

What more can you say about a match which will be watched by hundreds of millions of people. A match so big that even the President of the ICC expects it to shatter all records for viewing figures for any cricket match ever. It is the kind of cricket match which would have Don King salivating.

After all this is Pakistan versus India. A match where, in a land renowned for worshiping it’s deities, the cricketing versions are masters of their own universe.

Take the politics out of it, the strong emotional ties, the history and everything which people will attempt to signify with it and it still remains a powerful entity itself because these are two countries where cricket means something entirely different to anywhere else in the world.

But while these two nations have a lot in common, they also are very much apart and in someways the differences could not be more marked. India have the batsmen to win this match and it is Pakistan who have the bowlers bar the honorable exception of the evergreen Zaheer Khan.

It is India who are the more consistent, Pakistan perhaps the more exciting. Even the two best players in the tournament, Shahid Afridi and Yuvraj Singh-both spinning all-rounders of differing varieties-will be up against one another.

While one team considers themselves to be the beating heart of all that drives international cricket, the other is still trying to redeem itself for it’s past transgressions.

For India this match is crucial. They are reaching the end of a cycle which has seen them boast some of the finest players, playing some of the finest cricket that the world has ever seen.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan cannot carry on forever and will surely never have a better chance to lift the trophy before finally following the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble into retirement thus bringing to an end a fine company of cricketers who have helped make India what they are today.

While fine players such as Yuvraj, Dhoni and Gambhir will help ease the burden of their eventual passing, it is hard to escape the sense that Indian cricket will take time to rebuild itself after these players, and in particular two of the greatest of all time in Tendulkar and Sehwag, move on.

Meanwhile for Pakistan, the scene is very different. This is a country which has been through more upheaval in the past year than other test nations have in the past two decades.Suspensions, ball tampering, match-fixing, the works. Throw in murder and racketeering and you have a rap sheet you’d expect a Baltimore police officer to be reading straight off The Wire.

Yet remarkably, perhaps even astonishingly, there are green shots emerging from what had seemed only last summer to be a desolate landscape.Granted, the likes of Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Aamir are missed, as is Salman Butt though less so perhaps. But in their place has come experienced heads like Misbah Ul-Haq, Younus Khan, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq to help ease the burden.

Meanwhile the Pakistan production line continues to produce gems not only polished enough to shine at international level but to genuinely sparkle. Few young batsmen catch the eye quite like Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, or play with the maturity of Asad Shafiq.

Although their impact is not quite Inzamam Ul-Haq circa 1992, the potential long-term effect could still be as important in the years ahead. Add in the developing Wahab Riaz and you have a mixture of old heads and young colts who are gelling in a potent force.

Then to top it off you need leadership. A few months ago few people if any would have pictured Afridi and Umar Gul being the equivalents of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram but now they stand on the brink of emulating the ‘cornered tigers’. It would be a truly remarkable turnaround, and an excellent launchpad to put Pakistan cricket back into a far better place after years of struggle.

But these are just the back stories to what should be a truly major event in cricket’s history. Matches between these two rarely fail to disappoint, and with the calibre of cricketers on show it is certainly going to be anything but entertaining.

Because come tomorrow the eyes of the world will be focussed on a battle between two old rivals, fighting it out for one prize but with two very different outcomes still very much a possibility. Who will win is anyone’s guess, even for an audience of nearly a billion people.

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