MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The “U” word so often used to describe the Pakistan cricket team is something coach Mickey Arthur can come to terms with if it works in his favor against India.
Unpredictable Pakistan will aim to end its run of six Cricket World Cup losses to archrival India when the teams meet at Old Trafford on Sunday in what shapes up as a continental title contest within the group stage.
No. 2-ranked India is favored to win, having opened with wins over South Africa and five-time champion Australia before a washout against 2015 finalist New Zealand.
Pakistan was bounced out for 105 by West Indies in a heavy opening loss before rebounding to upset England, the pre-tournament title favorite on home soil. There was a washout against Sri Lanka in Bristol before a loss to Australia, which was closer than the scoreboard suggested in Somerset.
“That unpredictability tag always sort of hangs around the Pakistan team, and that makes us very exciting,” Arthur said at his pre-match news conference Saturday, putting a positive spin to the word he usually prefers to avoid. “I don’t particularly like when the commentators talk about, ‘Oh, it depends which Pakistan team rocks up today,’ because, as coach, we prepare those guys exceptionally well every time.
“But we are exciting, and I know there’s a massive amount of excitement in that dressing room as to the opportunity that tomorrow presents.”
Some big numbers have been thrown around in terms of demand for tickets and people clamoring to see this game between the subcontinental, nuclear-armed neighbors.
Old Trafford will seat 23,500 for the game, and Arthur agreed it easily could have been sold out 20-times over. The BBC reported there were 700,000 applications for tickets. With a population of almost 1.3 billion people in India and more than 200 million in Pakistan, and cricket being the national sport in both countries, the TV audience is expected to be huge.
Arthur, who has previously coached South Africa and Australia, is urging his players to make the most of the hype.
“The message for the boys tomorrow is not to hold back,” he said. “We want to leave everything out on the ground … and if we do that and not play a tentative game, if we play a game where we take the game on, hopefully, it clicks and everything goes well.
“It only takes one moment of magic. It only takes one moment of brilliance, and it needs one guy to stand up and do that.”
Left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir took five wickets against Australia and again will be expected to lead the attack, just as he did when Pakistan upset India to win the Champions Trophy in England two years ago.
Skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed’s form with bat and wicketkeeping gloves will be crucial, as will the contributions of top-order batsmen such as Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam.
India is likely to feel more pressure, with its unbeaten streak against Pakistan at the World Cup, its higher ranking and massive following.
“I’m telling our players in the dressing room, you could be a hero tomorrow,” Arthur said. “Your careers are going to be defined by a moment in the game. You do something incredible tomorrow, you’ll be remembered forever.
“Our kind of mantra is how do you want to be remembered? We’ve got 15 incredible cricketers in that dressing room, and we keep stressing to them, how do you want to be remembered? Tomorrow presents an unbelievable opportunity for these guys to really make a mark.”
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