India Pakistan T20 match today


MELBOURNE: Arch-rivals India and Pakistan are set to renew cricket’s most adrenaline-fuelled rivalry in Sunday’s T20 World Cup match in Melbourne.

With bilateral cricket remaining suspended bet­ween the neighbours, thanks to their soured political relations, emotions run high every time they clash in multi-team events in a neutral venue.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground is set to become a cauldron of emotions but the tournament’s most anticipated clash could prove a damp squib with rain forecast this weekend and India skipper Rohit Sharma said his team will be ready.

“The toss does become a little important. But again, I’ve been hearing about the Melbourne weather for a while now and it keeps changing,” Sharma said. “You don’t really know what is going to happen tomorrow.

“The things that are in our control we’ll try and control... We need to come here thinking that it’s a 40-over game. We’ll be ready for that. If the situation demands that it’s a shorter game, we’ll be ready for that as well.

“A lot of the guys have played such kinds of games before, and they know how to manage themselves in a situation like that where you’re getting ready for a 40-over game and then suddenly it’s a 20-over game for both sides.”

Pakistan captain Babar Azam struck a similar chord and said his charges were ready if rains were to lead to a shortened game.

“Weather is not in our hands, it is in God’s hands,” he said. “Whatever the overs or situation happen in the match, you have to be ready for every situation as a professional and we are ready for it. But for the fans, it would be great if we have a full match.”

The cricket boards of both nations are at loggerheads over next year’s Asia Cup after Board of Control for Cricket in India secretary and Asian Cricket Council chief Jay Shah suggested the tournament be shifted out of Pakistan to a neutral venue.

The Pakistan Cricket Board in return threatened to pull out of next year’s 50-over World Cup in India, but Sharma played down the controversy.

“My take is let’s focus on this World Cup because this is important for us,” said Rohit. “Whatever happens later, the BCCI will decide.”

Players from both sides have sought to downplay the hype around the match even though tickets sold out within five minutes of going on sale earlier this year.

They even hobnobbed with each other though many suspect the bonhomie is a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure of expectation from their unforgiving fans back home.

India, ranked number one in the T20 format, have not lifted a world title since the 2013 Champions Trophy and missed the final of the recent Asia Cup despite being favourites.

They will be particularly under pressure to avoid a repeat of the last year’s World Cup when a 10-wicket thumping by Pakistan in their opener set the tone for their early exit from the tournament.

“Pakistan were good on the day of the T20 World Cup match (in 2021). They were also good at the Asia Cup. Luckily for us we got to play them twice at the Asia Cup, we don’t get to play them a lot,” said Sharma. “We got to gauge them, their strengths, weaknesses.

“It’s there at the back of our players’ mind [not winning an international event for nine years], but it’s important to just keep that away and just focus on the job at hand,” Rohit added. “It’s my personal belief that if you think too much of the past, I think you won’t be able to focus on the present.”

The strike rate of their top order and death bowling remains a concern for the inaugural champions who are without injured pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.

The onus is on their explosive middle order, led by the swashbuckling Suryakumar Yadav, to come good against Pakistan’s formidable pace attack bolstered by Shaheen Afridi’s return from a knee injury.

Shaheen had removed Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul in last year’s tournament to set the tone for their comprehensive victory and the left-arm speedster would be eager to prove his class on Sunday.

Pakistan’s much-maligned middle order showed signs of form in the recent tri-series in New Zealand but a lot would depend on what kind of start they get from Mohammad Rizwan, currently the top-ranked T20 batter, and skipper Babar at the top of the order.

“It’s a high-pressure game but we’ll try to keep it simple and keep faith in our abilities and the practice that we’ve done,” said Babar.

India’s Yadav separates Rizwan and Babar in the official rankings and fans would be justified in expecting batting fireworks in a match featuring the world’s top three T20 batters.

Babar informed that Shan Masood had recovered from his head injury after the top-order batter had been hit by a shot during a practice session on Thursday but Fakhar Zaman was still nursing an injury and would be unavailable for the game.

“Whatever has been Shan’s tests, they all have come out fine,” said Babar. “He’s ready for tomorrow’s match if needed, but we have not selected our final team yet as the pitch has been covered for the last two days and we will decide on the eleven once we see the pitch.

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