Any Indo-Pakistan match sends the adrenaline pumping through the veins of all cricket followers in both countries. But for the expats who live in Sharjah and the neighbouring Emirate of Dubai, it is a week when passions run high and the main topic of discussion in offices, homes and public places is the Indo-Pak cricket match. For this one week cricket ceases to be just a battle between bat and ball.
The players have to face tremendous pressure themselves. With so many expats in the region, it must be the only neutral venue where so much passion exists in the stands. Twenty thousand screaming fans - not all of them showering praise - can either bring out the best in a player or destroy him. The team that handles the pressure better on the day will emerge as victors.
In this year's tournament, in addition to India and Pakistan, the third team is England. When England last played here, under the captaincy of Adam Hollioke, they were worthy winners defeating West Indies in a marvelous final. But this time they will be up against much tougher (sub-continental) opposition.
This time the battle assumes even greater significance, being the last official tournament before the fight for cricket's greatest prize -the World Cup which begins in May in England. All three teams will be playing with their final world cup squads, so they will certainly try and develop a few plans and strategies that they will use in the World Cup games.
form it will have to be Pakistan. They are always a difficult side to beat at Sharjah - this is the only neutral venue in the world where they feel at home, no differentfrom playing a match at the National Stadium in Karachi. Read more
Added to the feeling of home advantage they are a well-settled side now. When they play as one team we all know they are very difficult to beat- remember the 1992 World Cup? Wasim Akram is doing a fantastic job of keeping his side together and pumped up to win all games. The way they destroyed India in the finals of the Pepsi Cup in Bangalore on 4th April should be proof enough of the form they are in.
India on the other hand are going through a tough period, mainly due to the unavailability of Sachin Tendulkar, who is being rested. If the performance of the Indian batsmen is anything to go by, It appears that our batting still relies a great deal on the master blaster. Without him our batting is very suspect, a bit like a rudderless ship.
Secondly, with the selectors chopping and changing the team for every match of the recently concluded Pepsi Cup, the team looks very unsettled. Matters have not been rectified by the selectors, who have selected different squads for the Coca-Cola and World Cups. They have missed the opportunity of getting the team for the World Cup to play together one last time.
For India to do well, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have to take it upon themselves to bat as long as possible and allow Azhar, Jadeja and Robin to bat freely around them. India must have wickets in hand at the start of the slog overs - our lower order is just not capable of scoring boundaries against Wasim or Shoaib, not to forget Saqlain who is a brilliant bowler at the death. And against England, our tail-enders will have to face up to Gough- another top class bowler in the final overs.
I also think that playing all three specialist seamers is a mistake on the belter of a wicket at Sharjah especially since Robin and Saurav bowl seam as well. I would play Anil Kumble along with Chopra or Joshi since both of them are decent batsmen as well.
Although the crowds will want an India-Pakistan final, it should remembered England will not be easy to beat. They are very professional and are able to adapt to the conditions in Sharjah much quicker than India or Pakistan do when they tour England. Moreover, they are the superior fielding side and this should stand them in good stead especially if they bat first and post a decent total.
All said and done it promises to be a cracker of a tournament, and forms the perfect rehearsal for the most important tournament in 4 years which starts on May 14th at the Lords' Cricket Ground in London.
Indian Squad : Azhar (capt), Saurav, Ramesh, Rahul, Jadeja,Robin, Mongia, Agarkar, Srinath, Prasad, Anil Kumble, Joshi,Chopra, Kambli, Khurasiya