India and Pakistan will open their campaign for the T20 World Cup 2022 with a blockbuster clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on October 23. With the arch-rivals battling, the biggest cricketing rivalry will unfold in the marquee match on Sunday. Pakistan had trounced India by 10 wickets in the T20 WC encounter last year. As Rohit Sharma leads the Men in Blue into a World Cup event for the first time, the key question is can Team India turn the tables this time?
To this seemingly simple query, there is no easy answer. After the defeat in the World Cup last year, India came back strongly in the first match of the Asia Cup T20 recently and outclassed Pakistan by 5 wickets at the group stage. But a week later, Pakistan turned things around, won by 5 wickets and ousted India from the Finals.
In effect, the Asia Cup, a virtual dress rehearsal for the T20 World Cup, saw the Asian Giants sharing the two matches. Despite the Asia Cup hiccup, Team India enters the World Cup on a high as they scored back-to-back series wins at home against Australia and South Africa. They also reached Australia nearly three weeks ago to acclimatise to the conditions Down Under. Besides, they’ve played a few practice matches and even beat hosts Australia in a warm-up game.
On the batting side, India has a strong and settled line-up. The top five comprising Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya have the class and quality that could be the envy of any side. Each one of them is in good nick, can swing any game and together they lend amazing fire-power to India’s batting might. In particular, Surya Kumar has been a special delight this year and often seems to be toying with bowlers. Surya is now possibly the most important cog in India’s batting wheel and even Pakistani great Wasim Akram recently said that SKY could well be the biggest threat to Pakistan.
With Dinesh Karthik dovetailing as India’s specialist finisher and Axar Patel proving to be a handy replacement for the classy all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, there are some little debates for most slots in the team.
On the bowling front, however, there are some grave concerns and selection dilemmas. With pace-ace Jasprit Bumrah injured, Mohammad Shami was drafted in but he bowled just one over against Australia and then the warm-up game with New Zealand was washed out, leaving him short of match practice. With Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar almost sure to feature, the Rohit Sharma-Rahul Dravid think tank has to choose the 3rd seamer from Shami and Harshal Patel.
Among the spinners too, the Rohit-Rahul team has to decide between Yuzi Chahal and Ravi Ashwin as the front-line spinner. As Pakistan is likely to play a few left-handed batters, Ashwin could get the nod as the more economical option who also adds to the batting depth.
If India’s bowling is a worry, the Pakistan batting is a tad fragile. Skipper and star batter Babar Azam poses the biggest threat to India along with his opening partner, Mohammad Rizwan. The rest of the Pakistan batters are rather inconsistent and despite the return of the dangerous leftie Fakhar Zaman, a serious question mark persists over their batting unit.
In contrast, Pakistani bowling is one of the most formidable in the world and has been greatly bolstered by the return of Shaheen Afridi, the ICC Cricketer of 2021. The 6-foot 6-inch fast bowler had knocked India out with his deadly new-ball spell in last year’s encounter and earned Pakistan its first-ever win over India in any World cup format. Besides Afridi, Naseem Shah, who starred in the recent Asia Cup, could be a huge threat on bouncy tracks in Australia. Leggie Shadab Khan and left arm Mohammad Nawaz also provide a spinning edge to the fearsome bowling attack.
Overall, given the potential of the two sides, India and Pakistan could well provide another high-octane contest as they square off against each other in the T20 World Cup. Ahead of the contest, a slug-fest has erupted between cricket boards. With the BCCI claiming they will not play the next Asia Cup if it is not shifted to a neutral venue, the PCB has threatened to skip the ODI World Cup in India next year. The politics and the hype have sharpened the keen sense of anticipation over the mega clash.
As cricket lovers await the high-voltage clash, rain threatens to play a spoiler. According to weather experts, there’s a 90% chance of rain in Melbourne on the day of the India-Pakistan battle. Inevitably, the prospects of a shortened game are pretty high. As such, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam will need to prepare alternative plans and tactics in case the match is curtailed or conditions play spoilsport.
Shortened games, however, often turn out even more thrilling and the India-Pakistan game could well prove to be a nail-biting humdinger!