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Perpetual underdogs Pakistan aim to break World Cup shackles against India
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Perpetual underdogs Pakistan aim to break World Cup shackles against India

Favourites to win the World Cup title, India will head into the most anticipated clash of the tournament against arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday at Old Trafford with emotions riding high among passionate fans on both sides of the border.

India have been exceptional thus far in their tournament campaign and they will be hopeful of carrying their unbeaten form into the grand showdown to maintain their perfect 6-0 record over Pakistan in World Cups.

Bilateral cricket ties have come to a halt amongst the two nations since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, except for a short tour to India for Pakistan in 2012/2013 involving three one-day internationals and two Twenty20 games.

The latest encounter between the familiar foes comes amidst the backdrop of renewed political tensions between the two countries.

A scenario of potential conflict had formed in the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Pulwama with former Indian cricketers among other celebrities calling for a boycott of the match in Manchester.

Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli has downplayed the excessive hype built in the media and elsewhere and admitted that the electrifying atmosphere and support of thousands of fans in the stadium will further motivate the players.

"For Sunday, we know we're there when it comes to the mindset. Just about going out there and having a game plan, executing it," said Kohli.

"As soon as you enter the field, it's calm and relaxed. The atmosphere from the outside, for the first time, it's a bit intimidating, but we'll look to execute well.

"It's been competitive for years. It's a marquee event all over the world, an honour to be a part of the big game. Brings out the best in all of us."

Pakistan's struggles in the field

Pakistan's volatile form has been visible in the World Cup as they currently languish in the bottom half of the table.

Their horrendous display in the field against Australia which saw them spill easy chances proved too costly as they slumped to a 41-run loss.

They were also earlier humiliated in a seven-wicket thrashing at the hands of the West Indies, however, they did manage a surprise narrow win over tournament hosts England by 14 runs.

Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed would be desiring consistency from his players and recently highlighted the importance of uplifting their standards in the field if they are to beat quality sides such as India.

"We have to overcome our mistakes because India are also a very strong team. We will assess our performance and then we will plan," he said.

Still winless against India in World Cups, Pakistan will have to put up a strong fight in order to rewrite history.

India’s new opening pair under focus

Shikhar Dhawan’s thumb injury puts pressure on the Indian team management to find a suitable opening partner for the in-form Rohit Sharma.

While many have predicted KL Rahul to take up this role, this leaves the Indian think tank the option of choosing between the experienced Dinesh Karthik or the rookie all-rounder Vijay Shankar to fill in the vacant spot in the middle order.

Dhawan and Sharma have scored heavily together but the onus will now be on the right-hand batsman to shepherd India’s quest for dominance right from the beginning of their innings.

Amir’s form lifts Pakistan’s spirits

Mohammad Amir, who was overlooked in Pakistan’s preliminary squad for the World Cup, marked his return to form in emphatic fashion.

Extracting extravagant seam movement on a track which saw most bowlers leaking runs at Taunton, Amir came into his own as he registered his maiden five-wicket haul in ODI cricket in the game against Australia.

Amir’s splendid spell of bowling signals danger to the opposing batsmen, especially considering the fact that it was his heroics with the new ball that broke the back of India’s top order in the Champions Trophy final in 2017.

He would be expecting more of the same magic as he rallies up against a new-look Indian batting order.

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (c), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav

Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (c, wk), Asif Ali, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Imam-ul-Haq, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman