Birmingham: When the Champions Trophy tickets went online for sale in April this year, it took all of 30 minutes for the allocated tickets of India-Pakistan encounter to be lapped up. The insatiable demand from Indian and Pakistani fans will mean Saturday's last group B ICC Champions Trophy game will be more than a dead rubber.
Like every time they have clashed in the history of the game, arch-rivals India and Pakistan will take fresh guard at Edgbaston With India already in the semifinals and Pakistan out of the competition, this match will be of academic interest, but only just. (Read: 'Pakistan in great spirits')
Birmingham is the second most populous city outside of London. The city is home to a chunky mass of Asian expats whose voracious appetite for cricket has always seen Edgbaston wearing its prettiest frock when India and Pakistan play. At least 90 per cent of the 25,000 capacity crowd is expected to be divided between the sub-continental cricket giants. (India have upperhand against Pakistan: Abdul Qadir)
There are many ways to look at any India versus Pakistan clash. From an emotional standpoint, supporters of both teams will start from scratch but the final equation will be determined by how the players ultimately perform in the middle. Any such battle where mind and matter go hand in hand, Saturday's contest will be unique as it will test both skill and mental toughness of the players. (Also read: India vs Pakistan never a dead-rubber, says Sunil Gavaskar)
With nothing to lose, Pakistan can be a dangerous enemy. The agony of crashing out of the Champions Trophy after two horrible performances against West Indies and South Africa will be instantly forgotten if Pakistan can beat India - the reigning World Cup champions and the No.1 ODI team according to the ICC. (Blog: The principle of KISS and the battle of Edgbaston vs Pakistan)
Champions Trophy history is, of course, siding with Pakistan. They have never lost to India in six editions of this championship. Pakistan's first win in this tournament came at Edgbaston in September, 2004. Chasing 201 for a win, Mohammad Yousuf (then known as Yousuf Youhana) scored an unbeaten 81 to anchor Pakistan to a three-wicket victory with four balls to spare.
In head-to-head, Pakistan made it 2-0 against India in the Champions Trophy with a 54-run win at the Supersport Park in Centurion in September 2009. Shoaib Malik scored a 126-ball 128 to give Pakistan's experienced bowling attack 302 runs to defend. Two run outs -- Gautam Gambhir (57) and Rahul Dravid (76) - doomed India. Suresh Raina's 46 went in vain as Mohammed Aamer, Naved-ul-Hasan, Saaed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi picked up two wickets apiece to consign India to a big defeat.
Purely on form, India have a good chance to pull one back at Pakistan this time. A win will mean India top group B with six full points and travel to Cardiff to play the No. 2 team in group A. India opened their Champions Trophy campaign against South Africa in Cardiff with a 26-run victory on June 6.
Like most encounters between the arch-rivals, Saturday's match will be a clash between Pakistan's bowlers and India's batsmen. With rain soaking Edgbaston on Wednesday and Thursday and the sun playing hide and seek, conditions may not be ideal for high scores. But India will back their batsmen largely because they have posted 300-plus scores thrice in four games, twice in warm-up matches. The toss, therefore, will be crucial as the team batting second will have the advantage of pacing its innings according to the circumstances.
Both India and Pakistan have sound knowledge of the Edgbaston wicket. Riding on hundreds from Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik, India chased down 333 with consummate ease here in a warm-up match against Sri Lanka on June 1. Pakistan, on the other hand, were shot out for 167, chasing South Africa's 234 for nine in a group league game on June 10.
Pakistan's batting has been a serious worry in this tournament. The absence of a grafter in the top order has exposed the brittle middle-order too soon. Except opener Nasir Jamshed and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, none of the batsmen have fired so far. Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik have been conspicuous owing to their poor run with the willow.
India's batting remains their biggest strength. The opening combination of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan has worked like magic. Against quality pace attacks, especially against a South African pace quartet, the duo has put on 100-plus stands that gave set up the middle-order to control the innings in the middle and end overs. Dhawan has been outstanding with back-to-back centuries.
The last time the teams met, Pakistan surprised hosts India 2-1 in a short series in December 2012-January 2013. The left-handed Jamshed made it a memorable tour with back-to-back-hundreds at Chepauk and Eden Gardens. Pakistan won both games. But come Saturday, the battle lines will be drawn afresh and only pride and honour will be at stake.