India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his Pakistan counterpart Shahid Afridi will be involved in an engrossing battle of wits in the eagerly- awaited World Cup semi-final in Mohali on Wednesday.
Afridi’s team ended Australia’s unbeaten 34-match streak at the World Cup with a win in a league match, while Dhoni’s side knocked the defending champions out of the tournament in the quarter-finals.
Dhoni and Afridi have so far proved adept at reading the situations and did not hesitate embracing unorthodoxy, like opening the attack with a spinner in a bid to wrong-foot the opposition.
The Indian captain opened the bowling with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in the quarter-final against Australia on a slow Ahmedabad track and the move paid off as the spinner removed in-form Shane Watson (25) in the 10th over.Dhoni needs to intelligently use his limited bowling resources again as he has so far not seriously felt the absence of a fifth specialist bowler, thanks to part-time spinner Yuvraj Singh’s 11 wickets in seven matches.
The Indian captain was also proved right when he included Suresh Raina in place of hard-hitting Yusuf Pathan against Australia. Raina did not let his captain down as he was involved in a match-winning stand of 74 with Yuvraj.
“I prefer to go by instinct (in some situations),” said Dhoni.
India have so far lost just one game, against South Africa when their last nine wickets fell for 29 runs, and Dhoni was quick to remind his batsmen not to play for the gallery but for the team.
Pakistan have so far looked a disciplined and well-knit unit, thanks to Afridi’s leadership qualities.
Afridi may not have shown his batting prowess, but has done well as a leg-spinner and fielder. He is the tournament’s leading bowler with 21 wickets in seven matches.
He has persisted with wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal, who had an off-day against New Zealand when he let off Ross Taylor early in the innings. The New Zealander went on to score a century in his team’s victory.
It was the only defeat suffered by Pakistan, but Afridi did not regret his decision as Akmal grew in confidence with each game and was involved a century stand in his team’s quarter-final win over the West Indies.
Afridi’s moves to promote Akmal as an opener, bring Asad Shafiq in the middle order and playing off-spinner Saeed Ajmal against the West Indies have also paid off.