Aakash Sivasubramaniam
22 Oct 2022 | 01:07 PM

Murky Melbourne awaits arch-rivals India and Pakistan

Would the rain god have a final say on the much-awaited clash?

Every time India take on Pakistan in a World Cup fixture, tweets are familiar. Either people are reminding the Pakistani fans of their terrible record against the arch-rivals or there are people reminding them of how they got thrashed. 

But last year, Pakistan brutally went past India to bring back one. It is still 5-1 in India’s favour but this clash between the two colossal teams is perhaps the most balanced in a long time. Pakistan’s pace-bowling unit is scary, India have a leaking problem at the death with the ball and both sides have some household names that are dominant in world cricket.

Also read: T20WC Diaries: Men who could lead Team India to glory

And then there’s a murky Melbourne, acting like a spoilsport. If calculators became a quintessential for RCB fans over the years, it has become the weather apps for both the Indian and Pakistani fans. On Sunday (October 23), there is a high 80% chance of precipitation. Now, will that affect the contest heavily? 

Fast and furious ft. Pakistan pace unit

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), there isn’t a vast difference in the numbers between the pacers and the spinners. However, having said that, with the weather being slightly on the overcast side, there would be something for the pacers to exploit, which means the battle could boil down to which pace unit performs better. 

Since the end of last year’s T20 World Cup, Pakistan pacers have bowled 90.2 overs or 542 deliveries that are between the pace range of 140-155 kmph, where they have also picked up 30 wickets, twice more than the second-best side West Indies. It makes Pakistan’s unit threatening. 

Also read: Tangible weaknesses, but count Pakistan off at your own peril

Leading the pack with those numbers is Haris Rauf, who will be one of the biggest threats. Combine that with the fact that he knows these conditions very well, thanks to his stint in the Big Bash League for Melbourne Stars, India might be in trouble. 

India as a batting unit, however, have thrived against raw pace, with a run-rate of 10.4 and an average of 46. It will be an epic battle between the two at the MCG. 

What do India do with Ravichandran Ashwin?

While all questions were pointed at Mohammed Shami during the pre-match press conference, India have another question to answer: what do they do with Ravichandran Ashwin? Ashwin has made a steady comeback into this Indian side, and showed how, when used in the right phase, he could be a match-winner. In the recent years, the off-spinner’s stocks in the shortest format has been limited to one of match-ups, picking him only against teams which have a plethora of left-handers in their stock. 

However, could India change that up now? In all T20s since Nov 15, 2021, Ashwin has an economy rate of 6.4 against LHB, and a strike rate of 34.3 against RHB. The numbers aren’t the best but considering the weakness that the Pakistani batters have, it could be a ploy well worth trying. 

Also read: F̶a̶v̶o̶r̶i̶t̶e̶s̶ Hurt India on the hunt for redemption

What if we tell you there is more to picking Ashwin and that could be tied down to Pakistan’s weakness against spin. Against spinners this year, Babar Azam averages just 16.3 and strikes at 107.3, in comparison to 66.3 and 142.3 against pace. In fact, he averages 2.3 in his last four innings, with three dismissals to off-spinners. 

Does Pakistan’s batting end with Babar-Rizwan?

Out of the 3,768 runs Pakistani batters have scored since the end of last year’s T20 World Cup, 2,271 runs have been scored by the top-order (1-3). It is a well-known secret that Pakistan’s top-order is vital to their T20 World Cup chances, given that they average 33.9/wicket, but what has cost them a few games over the last year has been that strike-rate (123.4). But more importantly, does Pakistan’s batting end after their openers? 

No, Pakistan have a plethora of batters in the middle-order, who when used well could prove to be key to their chances. Shadab Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah are all batting options that could very well come to the fore for Pakistan. Add Mohammed Nawaz to that, they do have a batting unit that could really put sides under pressure. 

Against India, a side that likes to control things with spin in the middle overs, promoting Shadab might be a very good choice. No.4 is a position that the all-rounder is very comfortable with, scoring 276 runs with an average of 34.5 and a strike-rate of 167.3. Barring orthodox left-arm spin, Shadab has a strike-rate of well above 145 against other bowling types, making a strong case for him to bat higher in the order. 

In short, Pakistan’s batting doesn’t end with Babar-Rizwan. 

Team News and Predicted XIs

Well, it is all but confirmed that India are not going to surprise everyone with an inclusion of Rishabh Pant as Dinesh Karthik is confirmed to be the first-choice wicketkeeper. What can be a point of contention or debate would be if Harshal Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal find themselves a place in the playing XI. Will it be Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami?

India XI: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Harshal Patel/Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal/Ravichandran Ashwin

Pakistan have a fairly balanced unit, with the only question being over the fitness of Shan Masood, after being hit by a stray shot from Mohammad Nawaz. But Babar on the eve of the clash confirmed that the left-hander has recovered completely and will be part of the XI. 

Pakistan XI: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Shan Masood, Shabab Khan, Asif Ali, Ifthikar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi

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