ICC World Cup 2023, India vs Pakistan, Rohit Sharma, Babar Azam
India captain Rohit Sharma (left) and Pakistan skipper Babar Azam. File photo: ICC

T20 World Cup, India vs Pakistan: Drop-in pitch, toss could have a say in New York

India will renew their 11-year quest for an ICC trophy when they take on Pakistan, on what normally might have been labelled Super Sunday, but which wears a slightly less festive look for various reasons

The T20 World Cup has stumbled from one upset to another. Thus far, it hasn’t really caught fire, taking 17 matches for the first score of 200 to be crossed on Saturday (June 8) – by Australia against England in Bridgetown. There has been a plethora of sub-100 totals, including four on the bounce at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, India’s base for their first three matches.

It’s at this venue that Rohit Sharma’s men will renew their 11-year quest for an ICC trophy when they take on their fiercest rivals, Pakistan, on what normally might have been labelled Super Sunday, but which wears a slightly less festive look for various reasons. Pakistan are coming off the upset of the tournament, upended a couple of days back by United States, who only got Twenty20 International status in 2019. Powered by a brace of former India Under-19 World Cup players, Saurabh Netrawalkar and Harmeet Singh, who was a part of the title-winning side in 2012, US stunned Pakistan, and the world, in the Super Over on Thursday, a result that has transformed a contest even otherwise carrying high stakes into a massive encounter.

A sellout on Sunday?

Despite the co-hosts’ fabulous victory, the tournament hasn’t really taken off. Perhaps, a dose of India vs Pakistan is exactly what this World Cup requires because no matter in which part of the world these two Asian giants lock horns, sparks are bound to fly.

Attendances have been thin both in the US and in the Caribbean islands, where too matches are being staged on a daily basis. The Nassau County Stadium can house close to 34,000 spectators and it was no more than two-thirds full for India’s eight-wicket drubbing of Ireland on Wednesday. Everyone has been led to believe that Sunday is a sellout and there is no reason to doubt that. While fans from India might find it prohibitively expensive to make the trip to the US – not to mention the travails involved in securing an appointment to get a visa – there is a huge Asian diaspora in this part of the world and many of them have made a beeline to New York to partake of the Sunday festivities.

For the first time in a week, there was a reasonable gathering outside Cantiague Park, where teams train because there are no practice facilities at the Nassau County Stadium. The public park is closed to the public until June 12, when New York bids adieu to the World Cup, but that didn’t prevent a rash of Indian and Pakistani fans from milling around the entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes. They were denied even that pleasure; India had an optional net session in which the four travelling reserves were joined only by first-team players Shivam Dube and Sanju Samson. Pakistan’s full contingent turned up on Saturday afternoon, but with the windows of their bus completely tinted, it was impossible for those on the outside to even receive a wave from the stars inside.

Onus on Pakistan captain Babar Azam

If Pakistan were feeling the heat of the US setback and the pressure of having to win on Sunday to haul their juddering campaign back on track, it was well hidden, going by the spirit they showed at practice. Babar Azam, back in the saddle after briefly handing over the reins to Shaheen Shah Afridi, is no stranger to Indo-Pak World Cup clashes, though he will be acutely aware that back home, his captaincy has come in for a fair bit of flak and he must rouse his boys into action. Babar isn’t the most evocative or expressive of individuals but that doesn’t mean he isn’t aggressive enough. He will have to lead from the front and inspire his exceptional pace attack to hit its straps if Pakistan are to halt a formidable Indian batting line-up in its tracks.

Form and history are both in favour of India. Almost every member of the 15-strong party is coming off good performances in the IPL and, since landing in New York, India have won two games in a row – the pre-tournament warm-up match against Bangladesh and their Group A opener against the Irish. By contrast, Pakistan lost a series in England last week and are a little undercooked.

India and Kohli's dominance

India hold a lop-sided 6-1 advantage over their neighbours in T20 World Cups, their only loss coming in Dubai in 2021 when Babar and Mohammad Rizwan muscled Pakistan to a ten-wicket victory. That, incidentally, is the only time in this tournament that Virat Kohli has been dismissed against Pakistan. In five innings, the former skipper has amassed 308 runs – which is also his average – and in the last T20 World Cup encounter between the sides, his magnificent unbeaten 82 sealed India’s last-ball triumph at the MCG.

Kohli is now in his new avatar as a T20I opener – he hasn’t donned that role against Pakistan in 26 white-ball internationals – on the back of an exceptional IPL for Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB). His maiden World Cup foray at the top of the order didn’t go to plan as he managed just one against Ireland, but the sight of Afridi and his pace colleagues is bound to stoke his competitive juices. In a power-packed batting order that has been rejigged to accommodate Rishabh Pant at No. 3, Kohli will still be the cynosure even though India boast an inspirational leader in Rohit and the world’s No. 1 T20I batter in Suryakumar Yadav.

What Pakistan coach Kirsten said

Kohli is the only active member of the Indian side that won the 2011 50-over World Cup which was coached by Gary Kirsten. The former South African opener is in his first fortnight as Pakistan’s new head coach, and he insisted that there was no hiding from the fact that this was a ‘big game’. Coming from the master of understatement, that shows how much value this contest holds. Kirsten was in the Indian camp during the 2009 Champions Trophy and 2011 World Cup semifinals against Pakistan; now he is in the opposition camp, plotting India’s dismissal, another intriguing subtext in a game full of battles within battles.

The drop-in pitch and the toss could have a say in how the match unfolds but hopefully, that say will be minimal, allowing the skills and nous of players from both teams to have a decisive impact. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, given what one has witnessed so far, but so what?

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