Sunday Blockbuster Awaits Kohli’s India & Babar’s Pakistan

DUBAI: The most sought-after megastars of the current generation are primed to show their might against a bunch of enigmatic cricketers as India and Pakistan engage in an ICC T20 World Cup face-off, something that transcends the 22-yard strip.

The sensitive nature of cross-border relationship between the neighbours has led to minimal sporting engagements and cricket has always become the vehicle of one upmanship for the fans on both sides.

In terms of numbers, India have an all-win record against their arch-rivals in the T20 World Cup since its inception in 2007.

Incidentally, all the matches were won under MS Dhoni. Yet, this is a match that everyone awaits in the global event -- the fans because of its novelty factor, the ICC and the broadcasters for filling up the coffers. Everyone is invested be it emotionally, like the fans, or materially, like the other stakeholders.

It could be Kohli, who would love to get over his mediocre run of form in a match that always carries a posterity value or Shaheen Shah Afridi could tail one into KL Rahul's pads first up to set it up for Pakistan.

It could be Mohammed Rizwan, who might just launch into Mohammed Shami or it could be Suryakumar Yadav, who could play a reverse flick off Hasan Ali.

The players may say that it's just "another game of cricket" but even they know that in this day and age of retro videos and offensive memes, a not-so-great performance stays forever.

No one knows it better than current chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma, who is carrying the cross of a last-ball six off Javed Miandad for the past 35 years.

The Virat Kohlis, the Rohit Sharms and the Jasprit Bumrahs don't carry any baggage despite the blip in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.

On Sunday, the Pakistanis will have a lot more to prove than their Indian counterparts.

For the likes of Shah, Rizwan, Haris Rauf and their uber cool captain Babar Azam, it will not just be about breaking a World Cup jinx against a world-class side.

For India, their strength is a crack top-five that comprises Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar and Rishabh Pant. Here is a line-up that can send a chill down the spine of Afridi, Rauf, Hasan, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, who are going to form the core of their bowling attack.

For Pakistan, their two main players will be skipper Babar, an all-format superstar and someone who is destined to be one of the modern day greats. He will require support from Shaheen with the new ball as Hasan and Rauf could go for runs against India.

Left-arm spinner Imad has had a great record in UAE for Pakistan and how he varies his pace in the Powerplay and middle-overs against the likes of Pant and Surya will also define how they fare.

Similarly, the two senior men in Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Hafeez will be keen to settle scores with India.

On paper, it looks unlikely but T20 is a different beast.

Keep Calm & Not Think About Past Results: Babar

Explains Malik over Sarfaraz decision

Pakistan are not losing sleep over their poor record against India in the World Cup and are trying to stay calm and live in the present, skipper Babar Azam said here on Saturday.

The two bitter foes may be sharing the fiercest of rivalries but Pakistan have never won against India at the biggest stage, losing all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups.

In the ICC T20 World Cup here on Sunday, the two teams will again lock horns.

"To be honest, we don't want to focus on the past. We are looking forward to this World Cup. We will focus on our strength, ability and apply that on the day," Babar said at the pre-match press conference.

"It is important to keep things simple and stick to the basics. We will try to play good cricket and try to produce better results," the right-handed batter, who is on a high with two T20 centuries this year, added.

The cross-border tension between the neighbours meant that the two teams don't get to play bilateral series with their last meeting being the 2019 ODI World Cup game in England.

Asked if he's having sleepless nights ahead of the big match, Babar said: "We have played many events, did well in the Champions Trophy.

"The more we keep it simple, the better it will be. It's about sticking to the basics and staying calm and relaxed.

"Our preparation is in our hands and we have given our 100 per cent. We hope to play good cricket on the day."

FAITH IN SHOAIB MALIK TO TACKLE SPINNERS

In a bold decision, the Pakistan skipper left out former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who led them to a Champions Trophy triumph beating India at The Oval in 2017, and has preferred veteran Shoaib Malik.

"Sarfaraz is a good player of spin and has good confidence of playing against India. But we considered this would be our best XI for this match.

"Shoaib Malik also plays very well on the front foot and tackles spin very well. That's why we have opted for him. Of course, Sarfaraz will get his chance in the matches to come," the skipper said.

Pakistan come into the main draw with 10 wins in a row in the UAE and the 27-year-old said the mood in the camp is very positive.

"First game in a tournament is always crucial and we will hope to get a good start and carry forward the momentum.

"I've full confidence in our group and our team combination is going well. We will take it match by match."

Over the years, pace may have been Pakistan's forte but Azam said that batting has been their main strength this time around.

"Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. Our team has always been bowling-dominated. Bowlers always win you matches and our bowlers too are in good shape and did well in the Champions Trophy."

"But this time, our main strength is our batting. They way our batters have been performing over the last couple of months, I am confident that they will perform in the game against India as well."

 

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