Mohammad Rizwan scores 88 as Babar Azam hits 36
That October 24 night was nothing short of a nightmare for the Indian team and their legion of fans. And coming as it did at a World Cup and the manner in which they went down, it was flush with more than just disappointment.
Ten months on, the circumstances are strikingly similar — a big tournament and the first match of the competition — the same as it was at the T20 World Cup. But India will look to correct that and add some heft going into this year’s T20 World Cup.
There is no better tonic than a win against your arch-rivals and India, armed with a new batting philosophy, that is paramount for the most abridged version of the game, will look to take more than just the bragging rights from this high-octane encounter which will play out at the ‘Ring of Fire’ — the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Indeed, all roads, perhaps from Sunday afternoon itself, will lead to the Ring of Fire. Such is the aura and the atmosphere surrounding this fixture. The game’s standing can be gauged from the fact that even during the run-up to the start of the tournament, all the talk and the buzz was surrounding this match rather than the opening game between ‘hosts’ Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
With due respect to both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, their game was reduced to a supporting act — a teaser to the big one.
And so it will be when both teams walk to the carpet green turf of the stadium as they go toe to toe.
There have been a few additions to India since the last time the two teams meet at the World Cup and it is a selection headache for captain Rohit Sharma and the team management, perhaps a good headache to have.
The 15-man squad included veteran spinner R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, pacers Avesh Khan and the exciting Arshdeep Singh as well as Deepak Hooda and the new finisher Dinesh Karthik.
In fact, India have come to the UAE armed with four spinners in R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Bishnoi.
With some of the spots not yet firmed up for the T20 World Cup in Australia, this provides another opportunity for some of these players to punch their ticket for that flight Down Under.
“When there is an opportunity to try different combinations, we will try. Along the way, if we make mistakes or face difficulties, we're okay with that. We have spoken about it as a group, and there is nothing to fear," said Rohit.
The new batting philosophy has meant going all-out from ball one and it remains to be seen who will walk out to partner Rohit.
Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant have all given the Mumbaikar company at the top. But with vice-captain KL Rahul slotting back into the squad after a nearly three-month lay-off due to Covid and a sports hernia surgery, it remains to be seen if Rohit and the team management opt for his deputy or go left field yet again.
An interesting sub-plot to the opening pairing is Virat Kohli. Enough has been said and written about his form, so much so that it has almost become a national debate, but with India going for broke from ball one, it probably would be a good idea to send Kohli up top rather than three.
He’s fresher following a much-needed break and this just might be the move that could work wonders for not just India but Kohli, who will play his 100th T20I, as well.
“I felt he was in very good touch,” Rohit said after watching Kohli in the nets.
“He’s working hard on his batting. He isn't looking like he is thinking about a lot of things. He is just the same, didn't notice any extraordinary changes. He is returning after a month's break so he is looking fresh and is also looking in good touch,” he added.
Bowling-wise, it remains to be seen if India will opt to go in with an extra spinner, especially in pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah’s absence.
Meanwhile, Pakistan have a solid top-order with captain Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan opening the batting and the fearless Fakhar Zaman at three.
It is the rest of the batting line-up that needs to work around this trio if they are to put up some big totals.
They are sorted bowling-wise with Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan. But they certainly would miss Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Nonetheless, the time for talk is over and it’s time for action.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul 2 Rohit Sharma (capt) 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Rishabh Pant/Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 R Ashwin/Avesh Khan, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Asif Ali, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Khushdil Shah, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz/Usman Qadir, 9 Shahnawaz Dahani/Mohammad Hasnain, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Naseem Shah.
Match starts at 6 pm at Dubai International Cricket Stadium
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