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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sunday Night Raw: India and Pakistan renew rivalry in Dubai

Bragging rights at stake as Kohli's side look to maintain India's all-win record in World Cups against arch rivals Pakistan

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: October 24, 2021 2:03:01 pm
IND vs PAK, T20 World CUpIndian cricket team players train a day ahead of their match against Pakistan, in Dubai, UAE, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. AP/PTI

How many matches must Pakistan play before they beat India in a World Cup? In the 1990s, they had a great team but lost in 1992, 1996 and 1999. Since the turn of the century, as India became the game’s biggest power, Pakistan gradually regressed.

How many cricketers from the Pakistan T20 World Cup squad will get into a combined XI? Babar Azam walks in. Shaheen Shah Afridi deserves a shout out, while Mohammad Rizwan deserves an honourable mention. If it were a Test match, the result might have been a foregone conclusion due to the gulf between the two teams. T20 cricket, though, is like a penalty shootout in football. As Virat Kohli said in the post-match press conference, sometimes just three-four balls can change the momentum.

Fixing their opening conundrum before the showpiece event should hold India in good stead. A brilliant IPL did the trick for KL Rahul in terms making himself the first-choice as Rohit Sharma’s opening partner. Kohli will be at No.3. Ishan Kishan is in fabulous form of late, boasting three half-centuries in his last three T20 matches, including the warm-up fixture against England. Suryakumar Yadav, meanwhile, showed improvement during his 38 not out in the warm-up game against Australia. The team management rates Surya’s versatile batting highly and he is likely to play.

IND vs PaK, t20 world cup Indian captain Virat Kohli, left, warms up during a training session a day ahead of their match against Pakistan, in Dubai, UAE, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/ Surjeet Kumar)

Hardik Pandya is unlikely to bowl early into the tournament but he will be the team’s No. 6 batsman. Kohli is clear in his thought process that at the death, Pandya’s impact batting is what his team wants. “These things (uncertainty over Pandya’s selection) from a talking or discussion point of view, feel very interesting that if he doesn’t bowl, will he be left out? But we understand the value he brings to the team as a No. 6 batter and in world cricket, if you look around, there are specialists who do that job,” the India captain said. Kohli rewound to Pandya’s batting in Australia last year, his 22-ball 42 not out in Sydney to be precise, that helped India see off a tense 195 run-chase. But there’s a catch. If Pandya doesn’t bowl, who would be the team’s sixth bowler? Kohli bowled a couple of overs in the warm-up game against Australia. Is he confident enough to do the job against Pakistan?

Playing only five specialist bowlers is high-risk, for if someone leaks runs, the void could be exposed. “We have considered a couple of other options to chip in for an over or two. So we are not bothered at all,” Kohli said. On Saturday, Pandya didn’t turn up at the nets, raising a few eyebrows.

Having an embarrassment of riches gives the Indian team management a happy problem. Ravichandran Ashwin is one of them. Using Washington Sundar’s fastish off-spin in the Powerplay had been Kohli’s favourite template in T20Is. Washington’s injury paved the way for Ashwin’s inclusion in the World Cup squad. At the nets on the match eve, the senior off-spinner had a good outing. He had wickets in consecutive deliveries against Australia. Ashwin, however, can’t replicate Washington’s power-hitting down the order and playing him at the expense of leggie Rahul Chahar would be a complete U-turn.

Indian captain Virat Kohli, back to camera, talks with Rohit Sharma during a training session a day ahead of their match against Pakistan, in Dubai, UAE, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. AP/PTI

Over the past four years since the Champions Trophy final in 2017, India have made wrist-spin an integral part of their white-ball process. Given that Ravindra Jadeja is undroppable for his all-round ability, two conventional finger-spinners in a T20 game on a good Dubai pitch could be a luxury. As Kohli said, he expected good surfaces for the ICC event.

The BCCI has brought in MS Dhoni to the team set-up for the T20 World Cup, assuming that the former captain’s title-winning experience would help the side that hasn’t won an ICC event for eight years now. And so far, Dhoni has proved to be a hands-on mentor. He is giving throwdowns, talking to the players and offering advices to the batsmen.

Against the team culture of India, Pakistan will turn to individual brilliance, like Wasim Akram’s dream deliveries to dismiss Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis at the 1992 World Cup final or Fakhar Zaman’s match-winning hundred against India at the 2017 Champions Trophy final.

One big change for Pakistan, a team that revels in its unpredictability, is to announce the 12 for Sunday’s game against India. Even a senior Pakistani cricket correspondent was surprised, calling it “very rare”. Sarfaraz Ahmed’s omission from the pack brought about a few questions at the presser, but Azam defended his selection. Young Haider Ali scored his runs at a strike-rate of around 180 at the National T20 Cup – Pakistan’s lead-up to the world event – and for a side bereft of a power-hitter, he could be a fantastic choice if his captain shows boldness and drops one of the two veterans, Mohammad Hafeez or Shoaib Malik. Azam put up a brave front when reminded about Pakistan’s no-win record against India at the World Cups.

“Records are made to be broken and you never know what happens on any given day,” said the Pakistan skipper. To make that happen, he will have to lead from the front. Pakistan’s chances largely depend on their only world-class batsman, ranked second in the ICC T20I batting list. In the past, an India-Pakistan game used to be about India’s batting versus Pakistan’s bowling. That has changed with India’s rise as a pace bowling superpower. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be concerned about Hasan Ali’s profligacy in the death overs in the warm-up game against South Africa.

The one advantage, the Pakistan players is they are mentally fresher than their Indian counterparts. From the England tour to the T20 world Cup via the IPL, the Indian players have moved from one bubble to another. Kohli is aware of it. It’s not easy. “… going forward, I understand we have lost some time without cricket (due to the pandemic), but in trying to cover that up, if you lose players, then world cricket is not going to be better off,” he said.

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