BIRMINGHAM: India and Pakistan clash in a Champions Trophy match in Edgbaston on Saturday that promises high-voltage action despite the academic nature of the contest.
What was expected to be the marquee battle of the eight-nation tournament – tickets for the match were sold out within hours of going on sale last November – has been reduced to a dead rubber.
World Cup champions India are already through to the semi-finals after winning both group B matches so far, while Pakistan have crashed out of the race with two successive defeats.
But sporting contests between the arch-rivals are never irrelevant for players and millions of fans across the globe as heroes turn villains – or vice-versa – depending on the result.
As India look to smoothen rough edges ahead of the semi-finals, Pakistan will play for pride hoping to build on the 2-1 series success in India in December-January.
“I don’t think the Indian team has ever played a dead game,” skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said, referring to the huge fan following his side enjoys. “The match is also important to improve in the areas we want to.”
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore added: “It’s an important match. It’s certainly not a dead game for us and we will look to give our best.”
Pakistan were let down by poor batting, having been bowled out for 170 by the West Indies and then dismissed for 167 by a depleted South African attack missing frontline strike bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Skipper Misbahul Haq and Nasir Jamshed were the only batsmen to offer resistance in the two games, which put the hard-working bowlers under additional pressure.
Misbah, who top-scored with an unbeaten 96 and 55 in both matches, conceded the batting failure cost his side dearly.
“There are a lot of positives to take from this tournament,” he said. “We bowled and fielded very well, but the batting has not been good.
The batsmen are much better than what they have done here.”
Misbah, whose side was taunted by fans after the loss to South Africa, insisted the team were still very motivated to perform well against India.
“When a team plays the way we have, criticism is bound to come,” he said. “Supporters are like that. They also praise you when you do well.
“We must now play to our potential against India. We should not go back empty-handed.”
India, meanwhile, justified their number one ranking in one-day cricket with two impressive performances against South Africa and the West Indies.
They piled up 331-7 against the Proteas to win by 26 runs on a flat Cardiff pitch, and then restricted the West Indies to 233-9 at the Oval to win by eight wickets.
Left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan shone with superb back-to-back centuries, making 114 off 94 balls against South Africa and an unbeaten 102 against the West Indies.
It was the third successive international century for the moustache-twirling 27-year-old from Delhi, who scored a spectacular 187 off 174 balls against Australia on his Test debut in March.
India have also been well-served by Rohit Sharma, who partnered Dhawan for two century stands at the top of the order, and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, whose five wickets laid low the West Indies.