Updated: October 26, 2021 2:44:18 pm
Most high-profile India-Pakistan games are mostly won and lost in the mind. The team that is able to keep their ears shut to the outside noise, avoid watching the provocative war-mongering on television and not take social media seriously will have an edge over the other. What about the skills?
Both teams have players with proven international records in the game’s shortest format and are big-ticket influencers of their franchise teams. If this was a game of a bilateral series without the hype of the T20 World Cup, the odds would have been even. Historically, India has prevailed in these games of fine margins by not allowing the moment to overpower their mind space.
There’s the one-odd Pakistan win in the Champions Trophy final win in 2017 but consistency isn’t a virtue of the team in green. So it is never a good idea to bet your house on an India-Pak game.
The overriding thought in the minds of teams would be not just to play their best playing XI but to include as many seasoned stars in the team as possible. In the past, there have been many stories of unheard rookies, mostly wearing green, blowing away the rivals in those tense games but those were different times. Imran Khan is now the PM of Pakistan not their cricket captain and Babar Azam, or even Virat Kohli, don’t have the same stature or conviction as leaders of men. That means two tried and tested teams are expected to take the field today for a match as the cliche goes “matters so much to so many”.
While it might be very tempting for Pakistan to play their young hard-hitting top-order batsman Haider Ali, and India too will have the same itchiness to try out mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, it is unlikely that the leap of faith will be taken.
Batting: It is a very top-heavy batting with India’s top-three walking in at the start. As has been repeatedly shown, if either of KL Rahul or Rohit Sharma stick around in a T20 game a big score for the team is a given. Virat Kohli at No.3 is the best man in the world at the position in case there is a fall of an early wicket. He can steady the innings, rotate strike, keep the run flow and generally give the impression that everything is well with the team. The big batting call that India needs to take is at No.4 where it will be a Suryakumar Yadav vs Ishan Kishan dilemma. The safe option is to play Surya as he seems a matured cricketer with several domestic seasons under his belt, but an inspired pick would be Kishan.
The pace unit virtually picks itself. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar form a kind of bowling attack that will make any rival team lose sleep. The challenge for the team will be the order in which the three are used. The real acumen for a captain will be judged when it comes to deciding the spinners. But it is also a call that might haunt the team management if things don’t go their way. Who will be Ravindra Jadeja’s spin partner? Ashwin’s form in the warm-up game and his skills with the new ball make him a shoo-in. Conservative thinking will keep Chakravarthy on drinks duty.
Is it right to even mention Hardik Pandya in a discussion of all-rounders? Nah. Since important voices from the Indian dressing room have repeatedly said that he isn’t ready to bowl, Pandya remains a lower-order impact batsman. So the only genuine all-rounder in the entire squad is Jadeja. If clues from the warm-up games are to be taken seriously, the new all-rounder in the team is Kohli, the trundler with an action that has ‘frog in the blender’ shades.
Batting: Like India, Pakistan too has its best batsmen settled at the top. In most high-pressure games, most times a head-start decides the outcome of the game. Openers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are a seasoned pair and with Fakhar Zaman at No.3, the run-rate wouldn’t drop if there are no fall of wickets. A big score can put India under pressure and they have succumbed in the past. The hard-hitting Asif Ali, a regular in T20 leagues around the world, can be expected to give the late-order push. Haider Ali, after his exploits in PSL and National Cup T20, should play but there are questions. Should a 21-year-old make his ICC events debut in an India-Pakistan game? Shouldn’t Babar do what Imran did to Inzamam-ul-Haq in 1992 World Cup? Will Haider be thrown at the deep end?
Bowling: Pakistan’s pace bowling department too has an exciting young tearaway in Haris Rauf, a pacer known to trouble batsmen with deliveries that range from 140 kph to 150 kph. He can make an early impact on the game. There’s the old hand Shaheen Afridi, who will hold the attack together and the skiddy Hasan Ali will be the enforcer. Spinner Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim can be seen in the power play and if need be there are always Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, two old masters who know a lot about spin bowling and India-Pakistan games.
All-rounder: Pakistan has a strong list of players with two skills. The list is long: Hafeez, Malik, Imad, Shadab and Hasan Ali. This gives the captain a lot many options but at the same time may confuse him too. Post-match the experts can always blame him for not completing the quota of a certain bowler.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) October 23, 2021
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali / Haider Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav / Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami.
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