If sport is what the Orwellian ‘war minus shooting’ is, then India-Pakistan cricket encounters top the bill, perfectly. Over the years, the hysteria has certainly come down: it was almost like a war, well, it still is, for some.
Who will emerge victorious in the T20 World Cup game later today (Sunday, October 24) is a question that has cricket analysts and fans alike befuddled, but the answer is not easy when it comes to the game’s shortest format.
On paper, Team India appears very strong, ticking almost all the boxes. India’s fortunes will revolve around in-form batters like KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Surya Kumar Yadav while the all-around ability of Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant makes India one of the favourites to lift the coveted title — ICC’s Twenty20 world cup.
That said, there are no clear favourites in this format. And no side could be taken lightly in white-ball cricket.
Pakistan’s skipper Babar Azam is currently among the world’s best batters in white-ball cricket. The rewarding experience of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik in the middle-order, especially their ability to play spin well and up the ante at will, gives an advantage to Pakistan. Fakhar Zaman is an explosive player who can take the game away, any time. One of Zaman’s many strengths is to take the left-arm spinners (Attention: Jadeja) to the cleaners.
Where India has an edge over Pakistan is in the spin-bowling department. Wily Ravichandran Ashwin, mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul Chahar and Jadeja can definitely choke the Pakistani batters. It must be said that India will miss Yuzvendra Chahal.
In the fast bowling department, an area where Team India has traditionally underperformed, there has been a tectonic shift with the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. Besides this, bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur are more than handy and can spring up match-winning performances on their day.
For Pakistan, the form of bowlers such as Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hassan Ali is good news. Moreover, Imad Wasim’s bowling spells in the power play with the new ball can be tough to tackle. With his uncanny knack of trapping the right-hand batters plumb in front, he can pose a challenge for Rohit Sharma, India’s hit-man and run-machine.
Another advantage for Pakistan is Haris Rauf whose raw pace can rattle players in the middle-order, besides death overs.
The fact that Pakistan has never beaten India in World Cups (ODIs and T20s) could add a bit of pressure to the former, but in a T20 game, history does not matter. Also, fans can’t forget how Pakistan humbled India at the Champions Trophy finals in 2017 in England. A century by Fakhar Zaman, a cameo by Hafeez, and an excellent opening spell by Mohammad Amir sealed the game for Pakistan.
One factor that could go against India is skipper Virat Kohli’s waning form, plus his poor record of not having won any ICC title for India as captain. The presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a mentor could make a difference.
The fearlessness of players like Surya Kumar, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant makes India a dangerous side. Similarly, Shaheen Afridi’s ability to bowl yorkers and out-swingers ball cannot be taken lightly. So is the variation of Imad Wasim’s left-arm spin bowling spells.
Toss is another crucial factor with dew playing an important part in the UAE. The chasing team will have some advantage for sure.
For me, it is an even contest. The team that handles pressure well, wins critical moments and holds nerve eventually emerges as a winner. Yet, India appears stronger side, but should be wary of complacency.