Heartbeats overflow as Pakistan, India face off in T20 World Cup today
The high-voltage event will be watched by hundreds of millions around the globe, on televisions screens in remote villages, jumbo screens in crowded cities, mobile phones and flickering monitors in the living rooms of a diaspora spread across the world.
Face-offs on the cricket field between Pakistan and India, like T20 World Cup encounter on Sunday (today) in Dubai, have become increasingly rare, a victim of the choppy relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
For a match to take place at all, even on neutral ground, players and fans have to hope tensions remain short of war and that the organisers can weather growing calls for a boycott.
BABAR AZAM's MASTERSTROKE
Skipper Babar Azam vowed his team will not think about Pakistan's poor record against arch-rivals India when they meet in the high-octane match. Exuding confidence, Babar stressed that the past is irrelevant to his players. "To be honest, what has passed is beyond us," Babar told the players to lift their spirits before the match.
Pakistan have lost all seven World Cup (50-over) clashes against India as well as five games in the Twenty20 World Cup and start as 'underdogs'.
"We want to use our ability and confidence on the day of the match so that we can get a better result,” Babar said adding, "Records are meant to be broken."
The tickets for the match were sold out within hours of going on sale after the United Arab Emirate government allowed a 70 percent crowd for the Twenty20 World Cup matches in a relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions.
The South Asian nuclear rivals have only played in multi-national events like the World Cups and the Champions Trophy as strained relations have stalled bilateral cricket since 2007.
Pakistan did tour India in 2012 for five limited over matches but ties were not fully resumed as the two nations continued to be at loggerheads over multiple issues, with the disputed region of Kashmir and terrorism heading the list.
Babar admitted it will be a match full of intensity. "The matches between Pakistan and India are always full of intensity so we need to perform well in all three departments of the game," said Babar.
Babar said Prime Minister Imran Khan -- who led the country to victory in the 1992 World Cup -- had shared his experiences with the team. "The Prime Minister met us before our departure and shared his experiences of the 1992 win and told us to play aggressive and fearless cricket against India."
Indian captain Virat Kohli’s team that goes into the opening Group 2 game in Dubai is considered far superior to their opponents with each player burnished by Indian Premier League campaigns in the UAE. Ideally, that should put them way ahead of the Babar Azam-led Pakistan.
Yet, the hype and unbearable tension generated every time the sub-continent rivals meet means influences other than the usual cricketing logic take over and bring the tag of favourites with a caveat.
India also will look to overcome distractions within the camp. Kohli, looking to regain his best batting form, has announced his stepping down as India’s T20 skipper with the tournament. There are others, particularly all-rounder Hardik Pandya - his bowling fitness is still being assessed - who will start the campaign as a batter alone.
All this means, Pakistan should have nothing to lose. But the pressure will be equally intense on Babar Azam, the team’s leading batsman whose stature will go up manifold if he can deliver victory.
Chetan Sharma, who was hit for that last-ball six by Javed Miandad in 1986 is now India’s chairman of selectors. Besides, Pakistan will have to overturn a saga that has lasted 29 years, since their first loss in the 1991-2 World Cup that they went on to win.
Dubai Expo welcome notes greet tourists, not World Cup placards. Still, there are enough Indian and Pakistani expats in the UAE to fill 70% of the 25,000-capacity Dubai stadium, as limited by Covid protocols. There are still many late ticket aspirants willing to spend 3,000 AED or more to watch the action live.
World Cup scheduling has been an open secret, and until cricket takes over and the power-hitters begin to light up the sky, it would be for this blockbuster to help build the hype around the tournament in neutral turf. In 2016, then ICC CEO Dave Richardson had revealed that the global body does look to ensure Pakistan and India remain in the same group, such is its commercial pull.
Kohli did not reveal his playing eleven but made it clear that Pandya would be the designated No.6, purely as a batter for now, when asked how close the all-rounder was to bowling.
OLD IS PAKISTAN’S GOLD
Pakistan cricket captain Babar Azam relying on Old Guns had announced the 12-member squad for the crucial game against India.
Former captain Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim Jr and Mohammad Nawaz could not make into the 12 probable players that will take on the arch-rivals.
The squad includes batters, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman and senior batsmen Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
Moreover, Haider Ali and Asif Ali have also been named in the squad, but most likely, one of them will play the crunch contest.
Imad Wasim and vice-captain Shadab Khan are named in the 12-member squad as all-rounders.
Meanwhile, the left-arm ace fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali will make up the pace attack for the team.
Pakistan will look to break the jinx of not beating the neighbours in any World Cup contest.
The Men-in-Blue have been far dominating against the Men-in-Green in the T20Is as in eight meetings, Pakistan have just secured one win, which was back in 2012 in Bengaluru.