T20 World Cup: Current form counts for more than past glories

Pakistan's Shoaib Malik bats during the warm-up match against the West Indies in Dubai.  — AP
Pakistan's Shoaib Malik bats during the warm-up match against the West Indies in Dubai. — AP

Bengaluru - Pakistan have lost all their matches against India in T20 and ODI World Cups



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 9:08 PM

It’s a big one to fire up India’s 2021 T20 World Cup campaign as they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in Dubai Sunday evening. Wins in two high-scoring warm-up games will boost the confidence of Indian batsmen, but they were chasing with the aid of dew both times.

Pakistan have lost all their matches against India in T20 and ODI World Cups, but they will draw inspiration from a thumping win over Kohli’s devils in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.

Rival captains Virat Kohli and Babar Azam will now begin this tournament under intense pressure to make the right calls:

COVER FOR BHUVNESHWAR

Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s pace has dropped since returning from injury and so has his wicket-taking. He took a solitary wicket in India’s two warm-up games at an economy rate of 10, and he was equally lacklustre in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Until he shows evidence of better form, Shardul Thakur is a better fit as the third seamer alongside Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. His clever variations contributed significantly to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) winning the IPL title. Even if Bhuvneshwar is included, Thakur should play as a cover for him. India will need 12 overs from seamers in Dubai which has the least assistance for spin among the three World Cup venues.

HARDIK PANDYA CONUNDRUM

Another player selected for his past glories rather than current form is Hardik Pandya. He can be a matchwinner, but did not fire at all in the IPL after returning from a long injury layoff. What’s more, he hasn’t been bowling, which removes his allure as a batting all-rounder. As a specialist batsman, he shouldn’t make the cut ahead of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan. They had a lean trot too, but hit their stride in their last IPL game and continued the form in the warm-up games. If both Yadav and Kishan play, the temptation will be to replace Pandya with Thakur as the sixth bowling cushion. But that will make India’s batting vulnerable because Thakur is a bowling all-rounder. The best option is to go with five bowlers and rely on each of them to complete their quota of overs.

SPIN TWIN

Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round form makes him a certainty in the playing XI. The question is who accompanies him. The experienced Ravichandran Ashwin did not inspire confidence to complete his quota of overs in the UAE leg of the IPL. Mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, whom the Pakistani batsmen haven’t faced, would be a better partner for Jadeja, even though the lack of spin on the Dubai wicket nulls his venom. That’s another reason not to have a third spinner against an opposition used to playing spin.

FORM VS EXPERIENCE

Pakistan have selection dilemmas too. The top three batsmen are in fine fettle — skipper Babar Azam, wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan, and India’s nemesis in the 2017 Champions Trophy, Fakhar Zaman. But if two wickets fall early, it exposes two batsmen past their prime in Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. The man in form is young Haider Ali, but will the team leadership go for a 21-year-old against India in preference to one of the experienced men? Their new batting coach Matthew Hayden may well persuade them to do just that.

SMART POWERPLAY

Many a team has come a cropper this season in Dubai by going too hard in the powerplay. The bounce and movement that pace bowlers extract with the new ball on this wicket has been their undoing. Pakistan’s six-foot-six-inch tall Shaheen Shah Afridi is ideally suited for it, but Bumrah and Shami can also be a handful if they hit the deck at over 140 kph.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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