40 overs to satiate years of lost rivalry

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23 Oct 2021 | 01:12 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

40 overs to satiate years of lost rivalry

Favourites in their group, the winner of India versus Pakistan will have one foot in the semi-finals

The world stops for no one. Back in the late nineties and the early noughties, India and Pakistan playing each other was cricket’s marquee tour. It had everything. The viewership, broadcasting deals, an opportunity for immediate stardom and a chance for sports and politics to take the same stage. 

At times, the results mattered so much that the Government had their say in the schedule to ensure the fixtures do not fall on the wrong side of the election dates. Like the Indian Government did during the tour to Pakistan in 2004.

Since 2008, when a handful of rotten eggs from across the border shook India’s business capital and thus the nation’s sinew, bilateral series between the two countries have come to a halt. Cricket meanwhile moved on with the T20 leagues grabbing the attention space so much that Gen Z hardly got time to notice that an entire generation of cricketers from both countries will retire without playing Test cricket against each other.

India versus Pakistan should have been another big-ticket event on the calendar apart from the current big three playing each other. But the state of affairs within the power wielders on both sides have reduced the contest to being at the mercy of ICC events. 

It is common knowledge by now – broadcasters in India have not failed to rub it in since 2015 – that Pakistan has never beaten India in a World Cup of either white-ball format. Though this began in 1992, the trajectories of the two sides began to diverge in the last decade or so. 

IPL has made India a cricket powerhouse in terms of money, heft and talent. Pakistan are still trying to overcome internal differences and identify long-term problem solvers to turn them from a mercurial side to a potential favourite.

India thus look at their encounter with Pakistan like any other game. While it means a lot more to Pakistan. One has to go no further than read the words of the newly-elected chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board to understand the desire that nears desperation to beat India. 

“We go in the World Cup now and where we had one team in our target - our neighbours India, they now add two more teams - New Zealand and England.” Rameez Raja’s comments came after New Zealand – due to a security threat - called their tour to Pakistan off hours before the first game was to begin. England decided not to travel at all subsequently.

While Raja’s emotions garnered traction, what went under the radar was Pakistan’s indecisiveness in selecting their squad for the World Cup. Which they did in three tranches. Azam Khan and Mohammad Hasnain were part of the 15-man squad announced for the first time. 

In the second announcement, two days later, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Haider Ali – who were not even among the travelling reserves initially – replaced the two mentioned earlier. They also swapped Fakhar Zaman – in the travelling reserves earlier – with Khushdil Shah. When Sohaib Maqsood’s lower back failed to heal in time, he made way for Shoaib Malik who was not even among the travelling reserves in the earlier two squads. 

Malik is now among the 12-man squad Pakistan have announced for the clash against India. It will not a surprise if they announce someone in the XI come Sunday who is not a part of these twelve. 

But once the off-field events settle down, it comes down to the men in the middle. And Pakistan have enough match-winners to hurt any side. Shaheen Shah Afridi will walk into a World XI at this point in time. Afridi and Haris Rauf are among the top-three wicket-takers in T20s since 2020. Accompanying them would be Hasan Ali, who has already tormented India once in an ICC event.

With the bat, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are in the form of their lives. But, the onus would be on the veterans in Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik and the rookies in Haider and Asif Ali to lift Pakistan’s middle-order from the rut they have gotten themselves in since 2020.

For India, perhaps the only elephant in the room is Hardik Pandya’s ability to bowl. Him being able to bowl “at some stage” has dragged on from the IPL to now the World Cup. But, Virat Kohli has made it clear that India see value in Hardik the pure batsman at number six. 

The IPL this season did not witness any particular fireworks from him, but with a strike rate of 148.5 since 2020, hardly anyone should doubt Hardik’s value add as a finisher.

On an occasion when there will be a big picture, plots and subplots, all eyes will be on the couple of options India “have considered to chip in for an over or two”. If the pitches lack pace, which they might, India might get away with Kohli’s dibbly-dobblies.

Looking at their group, India and Pakistan will be the favourites to make it to the semifinal. The winner of the game between them could very well have one foot in it. The world stops for no one. Cricket has perhaps moved on from the fixation of India vs Pakistan. But, during those 40 overs on Sunday, the world will stop for around 160 crore people. 

Probable XIs

India: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli ©, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Varun Chakravarthy, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah

Pakistan: Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Babar Azam ©, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi 

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India vs PakistanICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaPakistanVirat KohliHardik PandyaBabar Azam

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