Pakistan inspired by underdog status as they look to break World Cup duck against fiercest rivals India

Isabelle Westbury
The Telegraph
Can Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed inspire his side to an historic victory over India? - AFP
Can Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed inspire his side to an historic victory over India? - AFP

Numbers might not lie but Pakistan may make you question them. The statistical superiority of India over Pakistan since the 2017 Champions Trophy all but presumes the result of Sunday’s game between these neighbouring nations. But in what is now almost a cliche, Pakistan’s volatile tendencies on a cricket pitch should be enough to dissuade even the most ardent bettors.

Since Pakistan’s triumph in June two years ago, India’s performance in one-day internationals has been better in almost every tangible facet. Their win percentage (71) is almost twice that of Pakistan’s (39), as is their century count (India 35 to Pakistan 18), and India’s collective batting average (43.7) is nine runs greater than that of the men in green (34.8).

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Pakistan’s fielding, if recent displays had eluded you, pales in comparison to India’s increasingly slick unit, their catch success just 74 per cent to India’s 81 per cent. 

As for the bowling, despite Mohammad Amir being the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, Pakistan have four five-wicket hauls to India’s five. They still get belted about for 5.23 runs per over to India’s 5.07. Some solace then, in the knowledge that succeeding every Pakistan capitulation, they have a phoenix-like ability to rise to their greatest heights. From 105 all out against the West Indies, and two wins in 13 attempts against England, they quietly accumulated the tournament’s highest score (at that point) against the world’s best side.

Pakistan’s win against India in 2017, their first in more than three years and the most recent in England, produced the highest-ever winning margin between these nations, of 180 runs. And that is in 131 meetings spanning more than four decades. From the 1992 World Cup triumph to the Champions Trophy more than quarter of a century later, Pakistan thrive on the underdogs tag.

“Yes, I think we do,” muses Azhar Ali, whose 59 in the 2017 final helped guide Pakistan to victory. “Because at that stage no one thought we would win.

“Obviously we had played some good cricket before that, to get there. People did say that it was not the same Pakistan team which India faced in the first game of the Champions Trophy against India, but still most people thought it was a big task for us.

“On the other hand we thought if we could play without any fear and just express ourselves, not get the result into our mind, we just wanted to play positive cricket. We had the approach of, ‘Let’s see what the result is later on, without thinking about the end result’. I think that really helped us.”

Pakistan, famously, have never beaten India in a World Cup. The record of Pakistan v India in ODIs in England tilts 3-2 in India’s favour and the only other meeting in Manchester, in 1999, resulted in a comprehensive Indian victory.

Clamber back to a slightly different viewing platform and history, at least the big picture canvas, is in Pakistan’s favour.

The Pakistan cricketer-turned-commentator Ramiz Raja was asked recently how he used to prepare for India matches, in particular handling that stifling fear of favour.

“I can’t,” he replied. “Because I never lost to India!” Not entirely accurate, but Ramiz did lose only 10 of his 29 matches against India.

In each of the four decades since the Seventies, when the first India-Pakistan match was played, Pakistan have dominated. Their superiority was at its peak during the Eighties, when Pakistan won 19 of the contested ODIs to India’s nine. Results have only been reversed in the past decade, coinciding with Pakistan’s ejection from hosting home internationals and the establishment of the lucrative Indian Premier League.

India will walk out at Old Trafford having won every match they have played in this World Cup. For Pakistan, this is almost a must-win if they are to preserve hopes of reaching the semi-finals.

<span>India are favourites to triumph on Sunday</span> <span>Credit: ap </span>
India are favourites to triumph on Sunday Credit: ap

“It is very important that you don’t just think about the result, just go and express yourselves,” urges Azhar, adopting England’s World Cup campaign slogan. “Just let the result take care of itself. It will happen what is going to happen, just give your best shot.”

Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera might not be the first song choice on the Old Trafford DJ’s roster on Sunday but Elton John’s I’m Still Standing might work its way in. Four of Pakistan’s five highest successful run chases in ODI’s have come against India.

“I think India versus Pakistan games, whether you have lost every game or won every game, it gives a fresh start altogether,” adds Azhar. “Because it is a World Cup in itself sometimes. Whatever the results are coming into it, I think that at the end that game will be as important as anything before that.”

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