Pakistan will have to overcome an opposition with better personnel, and with their own prep having been hit
It’s worth acknowledging the elephant in the room: a Pakistan win tomorrow would be good for cricket. The longer India’s streak continues, the weaker this fixture’s claim to being an elite, top-tier contest becomes. An India-Pakistan contest that no longer commands the same prestige cannot be good for a sport that desperately needs this rivalry to deliver every chance it gets because – to acknowledge the second elephant in this rather overcrowded room – these games don’t come around as often as they should. The reasons for that are not cricketing, but it’s the sport that bears the brunt of it.
Worryingly, games between these sides at ICC tournament level of late haven’t produced engaging, high-quality cricket for the best part of the last decade. The contest has owed its jeopardy for the most part to the historical rivalry between the Indian and Pakistan camps – on and off the field – rather than to finely poised matches between two evenly matched sides. Since the 2011 ODI World Cup semifinal, five World Cup games between these two sides have all produced comprehensive Indian wins, by eight wickets, seven wickets, 76 runs, six wickets and 89 runs respectively. India pulled ahead early in all those games, and stayed there until Pakistan were eventually ground out.
For India, there seems to be little to worry about. Their two warm-up games against England and Australia tells the story of a side in complete control of their preparations, settled despite the various combinations and personnel they can choose to deploy on any given day. The second half of IPL 2021 concluded last week in the UAE; India could scarcely have enjoyed a better lead-up to the tournament. Their T20 record against Pakistan reads seven wins in eight games. On paper, there’s little to worry them, and for all of the drama and theatre of an India-Pakistan fixture, no World Cup game has ever been quite as predictable as this.
India: LLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
KL Rahul has mastered the art of getting runs in T20 cricket, but over the past couple of years, the question that has dogged him is whether he has been getting them at the optimum pace. Rahul said at the end of IPL 2021 that he didn’t always bat “the way he wanted to” with Punjab Kings because the team dynamics dictated something else. He ended IPL 2021 with a breaking-the-shackles 98* off 42, and in the warm-ups, he’s hit 51 off 24 and 39 off 31. Will India’s greater depth free Rahul up to be a no-inhibitions T20 batter? It’ll be interesting to see.
There isn’t much between R Ashwin and Varun Chakravarthy for the main spinner’s role. The KKR man is perhaps a slight favourite to get the nod based on recent form. Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammed Shami for a fast-bowling berth is also perhaps a toss-up. Neither were brilliant in the warm-ups, though Shami didn’t bowl in the second, so Bhuvneshwar may just edge it.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul 2 Rohit Sharma 3 Virat Kohli (capt) 4 Suryakumar Yadav 5 Rishabh Pant (wk) 6 Hardik Pandya 7 Ravindra Jadeja 8 Shardul Thakur 9 Varun Chakravarthy/R Ashwin 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Mohammed Shami 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pakistan have named a 12-man squad already. One of Haider Ali or Mohammad Hafeez are likely to miss out.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Fakhar Zaman 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Haider Ali 5 Shoaib Malik 6 Asif Ali 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim 9 Hasan Ali 10 Haris Rauf 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
The first round of the T20 World Cup saw the UAE fixtures take place in Abu Dhabi, but the pitch in Dubai is expected to favour the slower bowlers. Even the quicks are likely best served by varying their pace and bowling more cutters than express pace, with lower scores likely to be competitive.
Stats and trivia
- India’s current streak of five successive T20 World Cup wins over Pakistan is the joint longest in the competition, along with West Indies over England and Pakistan over Bangladesh.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000