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Tactics Board: Where the India-Pakistan game could be won and lost

Sure India go into this game with a 6-0 World Cup record over their neighbours, but if we've learnt anything from watching Pakistan over the years (remember the Champions Trophy final?), predicting which Pakistan would turn up on a given day is a fool's errand. They've put it past tournament favourites England already, after getting blanked in a bilateral ODI series against the same opposition ahead of the World Cup, and nearly shocked Australia the other day, despite being out of it for most of the game. India go in as favourites, but will be wary of all these factors, more so if rain plays a part in shortening the game.

Weather permitting, what should India do to put another couple of points on the board? And what should Pakistan avoid to get their World Cup campaign back on track?

Tactics Board: Where the India-Pakistan game could be won and lost
Pakistan do better against India while batting first, an extension of their overall ODI record of late © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

India should bat first if they win the toss


Teams have chosen to chase as many as 14 times so far this World Cup, and ended up winning just four of those times. The premise seems to be rooted in the expectation that early morning English conditions will have something for the seamers, but it has been something of a banana peel.

Add to this the fact that Pakistan have historically struggled to chase down targets, and you have enough reason to bat first. India have won five of their six World Cup clashes against Pakistan batting first, and the only time they chased, in 2003, the contest was still on when Sachin Tendulkar fell with nearly a 100 runs to get. In this case, Virat Kohli would do well to remember the Champions Trophy 2017 final (and Pakistan's recent win over England) to know that they are at their most dangerous when setting a target. Sarfaraz Ahmed would be looking to win the toss and set a total against an Indian attack that has only gotten doubly stronger since that trophy-sealing win at the Oval two years ago.

We wrote earlier how India should be comfortable chasing, but a used wicket at the Oval saw them opt to bat first. The caveat for this game is the fact that Old Trafford has been a low-scoring ground compared to most of the venues at this World Cup (average first-innings score since 2015: 211), where four of the last five games have been won by the side chasing. All said, India wouldn't mind either option, but for Pakistan, batting first remains their best chance of winning.

How will India's big guns deal with a resurgent Amir? © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

How their new opening combination (and Kohli) deal with Amir


Mohammad Amir's five-wicket haul against Australia was his first in ODIs, and even when he didn't get wickets early on, he was the only Pakistan bowler troubling Australia's top order. His figures of 5 for 30 in an innings where they made 307 speaks to that fact.

Should there be similar conditions at Old Trafford - grey skies, cold weather and a bit of nip in the air - India's top order, now sans Shikhar Dhawan, might as well play him out early on. Rohit Sharma reaped the rewards of surviving (along with a streaky slice of luck or two), and the approach should remain the same against a bowler who is among the most dangerous when he's into his rhythm. Amir hasn't been the same bowler since he turned the Champions Trophy final on a dime, but early signs are that the tournament's current top wicket-taker could mean business come big-match day.

The case for a dose of chin music early on © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Bang it in short to the top order (and play Shami?)


Pakistan look like they've turned a corner from their disastrous opener against West Indies, having taken on England and Australia's attacks with a much more controlled approach early on. But their top order's record against the short ball make it a tempting option to try early on. None of their top five averages more than 24 against short ones in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia, and with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah going into this game with the statistical upper hand against Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, it might not be a bad idea to try a dose of chin music at the start. Get their top three out cheaply, and the percentages swing big time towards India (vastly different conditions but remember this Asia Cup game? And this one?)

Selection changes are difficult to call a day before the game at a venue hosting its first match of the tournament, but should they be bowler-friendly at all - given all the rain in Manchester over the past few days - Mohammed Shami might be a tempting third pace option in place of Kuldeep Yadav. It's a roll of the dice India might resist given how well their bowlers have done so far, but why carry an in-form bowler if not for a horses-for-courses call in a big game?

And Pakistan, please play your best XI?


Four games in, Pakistan seem no closer to finding their best XI than they were when they arrived in England. First, Asif Ali's big hitting was benched for Haris Sohail's presence in the middle order, before Imad Wasim's all-round abilities were shelved for Shoaib Malik's. Shadab Khan then made way for an extra seamer in Taunton.

There are multiple issues to resolve here, starting with the fact that Malik's record in England (batting average 13.57), recent form (53 runs in four innings since the start of the England series) and record against India through the second half of his career (one fifty in nine innings since 2010) should all be reasons to play Imad ahead of him.

Shadab should make a comeback into the XI in place of the fourth seamer, most likely Shaheen Afridi, given Pakistan have missed his fielding as much as his bowling abilities. Given their position on the points table and with India as the opposition, they should give themselves the best chance of making a match of this.

But then again, this is Pakistan, Malik did put the brakes on England with the ball just the other day, and has starred in victories against India in the past. So, what do we know, eh?

Topic: #kia oval
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what are you? britisher? 'eh!'

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