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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Who will win the India-Pakistan clash?

By Peter Della Penna and Amar Shah
Special to ESPN.com

India's rivalry with Pakistan goes well beyond sports, and a memorable page will be written in the history books of both nations Wednesday during their Cricket World Cup semifinal in Mohali. Peter Della Penna explains why Pakistan won't back down going into the lion's den, while Amar Shah writes why India will show no mercy against its archnemesis.

Why Pakistan will win

Perhaps the only sports team with a bigger chip on its shoulder in the past month than Virginia Commonwealth University's men's basketball team is the Pakistan cricket squad. Both have managed to silence critics with phenomenal performances to reach the semifinals of their respective tournaments.

Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi displays the charisma and crazy antics of Dennis Rodman, not to mention the same kind of world-class talent. He's leading the World Cup with 21 wickets, and despite not performing yet with the bat, he has done so in the past when the occasion called for it. In the 2009 World Twenty20 in England, Afridi scored back-to-back half-centuries in the semifinal and final to guide Pakistan to the title.

Even though only one Pakistani batsman has scored more than 200 runs during the tournament, there have been nine 50s scored among seven different players. If one player fails, the next man is capable of picking up the slack, from Mohammad Hafeez to Umar Akmal. While India is a team of batting stars, Pakistan has achieved success through team chemistry. On paper, India has the power to outmuscle Pakistan. On the pitch, it could be a different story.

The biggest mark against Pakistan is its fielding. However, it's been surprisingly solid since a disastrous display against New Zealand. Besides, any fielding unit would look all-world standing next to India's group of Keystone Kops impersonators.

Pakistan is riding high after ending Australia's 34-match World Cup unbeaten streak. It slayed Sri Lanka in Colombo during the group stage, so it should not feel intimidated going up against India in Mohali either.

Until Sunday, no team had ever won five games to get to the Final Four, but VCU managed to do it. Pakistan has never beaten India in a World Cup before now, but this month in the world of sports has shown that history books can be tossed out the window. On Wednesday, legions of faithful supporters will be shouting "Pakistan Zindabad!" from the rooftops, and "Inshallah" they will be victorious over India.

-- Della Penna

Why India will win

"War minus the nuclear weapons."

"Clash of titans."

"Mother of all Matches."

Pick your superlative. Each rings true. On Wednesday, India and Pakistan square off in Mohali in the ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal, and the world's most intense sporting rivalry will have one intriguing battle in the tournament's penultimate match. Hundreds of millions across the subcontinent are expected to tune in to what will be the most-watched cricket match in history.

The diplomatic and cultural storylines are obvious. India and Pakistan split during partition in 1947. They're nuclear rivals who have gone to war three times. It will be the first time Pakistan has played on Indian soil since the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008. And this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to watch the match.

But the real drama will happen in the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, where tickets are selling for over $2,000. Coming off a monumental victory against former champs Australia, the Indians are riding a rush of momentum that should propel them to victory against their archnemesis.

The Pakistanis have performed admirably so far, considering the drama they've been through, with a match-fixing scandals and the banishment of some of their best players. With a dismantling of the West Indies in the quarterfinal, captain Shahid Afridi and his bowling platoon are in top form. Afridi leads the tournament with 21 wickets, and with legendary bowler Shoaib Akhtar, known as the "Rawalpindi Express," rumored to be added to the lineup, Pakistan has a bowler who can give India fits. But the men in green are no match for India's dominant batting squad.

Led by a triptych of legends -- Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh -- India's heavy hitters are capable of demolishing any bowling attack. Singh, the prodigal son who returns to the place of his birth, has been the Kemba Walker of willow, winning man of the match four times, including a century over the West Indies. He's done it as a bowler, too, recording 11 wickets.

India's weakness had been its bowling, but it proved doubters wrong with its performance against the Aussies, led by Zaheer Khan. India will face a Pakistani batting order that doesn't even have a top-25 run-scorer in the tournament. India is 4-0 versus Pakistan in World Cup matches and also has home-field advantage on its side. Come Wednesday, here's the only superlative that matters: India victors. Jai Ho!

-- Shah

Peter Della Penna is an American-born and -raised cricket journalist who writes for ESPNcricinfo.com and DreamCricket.com. His work has also appeared in "The Wisden Cricketer" and the Wisden Cricketers Almanack.

Amar Shah is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles. He's currently developing a romantic-comedy screenplay set in the world of cricket. He can be reached at shahespn@gmail.com or on Twitter.