India-Pakistan matches are rare and usually only found in global tournaments, and this combination of scarcity and high stakes often brings out the worst in both sets of fans. And, over recent years, the pre-match hysteria has often given way to one-sided anticlimaxes on the field. Lukewarm blowouts giving way to jingoistic gloating and poisonous finger-pointing – do we really need India-Pakistan cricket if this is what it is defined by?
It was clear then that these were two excellent T20 sides with contrasting strengths that aligned broadly with national stereotypes which had not always been accurate previously. On one side was a formidable batting unit with holes all over its bowling thanks to the absence of one key superstar; on the other a conservative top order that set its sights on par totals, confident in the ability of its high-quality, high-pace attack to defend them.
A clash of cricketing giants, and a clash of cricketing philosophies. What more could you ask for? Well, a World Cup setting, perhaps. And maybe a neutral venue that puts these philosophies to their stiffest test.
We have lucked out then, because Sunday will contain all these ingredients. Where better than Australia for the paciest attack in the T20I world to come up against some of the best players of fast bowling? Where better than the MCG and its 100,000-plus capacity for this to happen?
India LWWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
India will have to make two big calls regarding the composition of their bowling attack. One is picking three out of their four specialist pace options. Then there is the issue of spin. Five out of Pakistan’s notional top-six are likely to be right-hand batters, but they often use Mohammad Nawaz as a floater to break that pattern. Should India pick their offspinner R Ashwin, then, or go with their preferred spin pair against right-hand-heavy teams?
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Harshal Patel/Mohammed Shami, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal/R Ashwin, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Shan Masood, 4 Haider Ali, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 11 Haris Rauf
Pitch and conditions
This suggests the toss may not be quite so crucial, though you would probably still expect the team winning it to chase. Also expect a lot of hard-length bowling, with bowlers encouraging batters to hit towards the long square boundaries and keeping them away from the relatively short straight boundaries.
Stats and trivia
- There’s one argument for India picking Ashwin despite the right-hand-heavy nature of Pakistan’s top six. In T20Is this year, Babar Azam (strike rate 114.28) and Mohammad Rizwan (112.32) haven’t scored particularly quickly against offspin, and the two openers often bat through a significant chunk of Pakistan’s innings. Babar has also been dismissed four times by offspinners in 35 balls.
- Among bowlers to have sent down at least ten overs at the death (17-20) in Full-Member-vs-Full-Member T20Is this year, Arshdeep (8.30) and Haris (8.35) have the joint-second-best and fourth-best economy rates. Only Kane Richardson (8.00) and Fazalhaq Farooqi (8.30) sit above them.
- Dinesh Karthik is set to feature in a T20 World Cup match for the first time in more than 12 years. His last appearance was against Sri Lanka in St Lucia during the 2010 tournament.
- Karthik and Rohit Sharma were part of India’s squad at the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, in which no member of Pakistan’s current squad had featured.
“Speaking of the game against Australia, the warm-up game, that was always the plan. We know he’s very good with the new ball, so we just wanted to give him a bit of a challenge to come and bowl at the death, and see what he can do. And most importantly his body was something we had to look at, because he’s just recovered from Covid, and we wanted to give him enough time. We wanted to play him in the next warm-up game, full 20 overs, but unfortunately it got washed off, and we didn’t get a chance to play him there, but in terms of preparation, I think he’s very well prepared. He’s been training with the team for a while now. He came to Brisbane quite early, and had a few sessions with the entire team. In terms of his readiness I think he’s very much ready. It’s just about going out and executing what Shami is known for.”
India captain Rohit Sharma on Mohammed Shami’s late introduction in the warm-up game against Australia, and his readiness to play the World Cup as Jasprit Bumrah’s replacement
“Off the field whenever we meet, we meet each other respectfully. That is sportsman spirit. Not just with India, but we bond well with all other teams. Whatever the situation on the field, everyone gives 100% for their country, we do the same. But off the field, we meet each other respectfully.”
Pakistan captain Babar Azam
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo