The Oval prepares for the battle between Pakistan and India today. While both teams lost their opening warm-up matches on Monday, with a poor turnout at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, this particular warm-up has witnessed the biggest demand for tickets. With an expected full-house this afternoon, security – for fans and players – remains a talking point, especially with recent matches involving either team in England culminating in pitch invasions.
The Oval, with its recently-installed floodlights and pulled-in boundary ropes, will witness close to 24,000 spectators providing India a last chance to regroup before commencing their title defense. For Pakistan, however, it will be a first shot at avenging the defeat in the 2007 final and doing well in a tournament that will, according to Younis Khan, bring hope and cheer for their fans.
According to Pakistani coach Intikhab Alam, for Pakistan to become consistent the key is their senior players, starting with their captain Younis Khan, need to perform. “I’m expecting a great deal from Younis Khan. Then we have people like Salman Butt, Misbah, Shahid Afridi, who can hit the ball and are tailor-made for this kind of cricket.”
Afridi, never shy of speaking his mind, said he would want to make the same impact like in the previous World Twenty20, where he was one of the top bowlers. “I was one of the best bowlers in the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup. I will do my best once again and I’ve been doing well with the ball in the last few years for Pakistan. As for the batting, I know people expect a lot from me and luckily I’ve had a few decent knocks against Australia recently.”
Fresh blood in the team like Muhammed Aamer and Ahmed Shahzad also had a strong background and people have high hopes from them.
It will be the first Indian-Pakistan cricket encounter since the November Mumbai attacks, and officials are taking no chances to ensure that the match passes off peacefully. Tournament director Steve Elworthy said, “The sporting landscape has changed hugely since the tragedies in Mumbai and Lahore. We need to be confident we’re on top of the situation, which we are.” Security has also been stepped up in venues where the Sri Lanka team is scheduled to play, given the recent events in the island nation and demonstrations in London against the Sri Lanka government’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers. A dedicated Police Intelligence Cell headed by the former chief constable Sir John Evans, has been set with the mandate to supervise security arrangements for the whole Twenty20 World Cup tournament.