Monday November 29, 2021

Encounter at Dubai

October 22, 2021

Hundreds of millions of cricket fans will be glued to their TV sets all over the world on Sunday when old rivals Pakistan and India will meet in a potentially explosive T20 World Cup opening match at the Dubai International Stadium. An Indo-Pak encounter at such a big stage is counted among the biggest international sporting spectacles. And the fact that it comes after a long break due to a variety of factors including the pandemic makes Sunday’s game all the more important not just for the two competing teams but the entire cricket world. The odds seem to be heavily stacked against Pakistan. They have never beaten India in a World Cup match even not when they were seen as hands down favourites. The current form, too, favours the Indians who have in recent years established themselves as one of the best teams in the world in all formats of the game. Pakistan, meanwhile, have been braving a series of ups and downs and have landed in the UAE with a new set of coaches following the last-minute exit of head coach Misbahul Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis.

The Indians came to the World Cup after a thorough experience of playing on UAE pitches thanks to the recently-concluded Indian Premier League. But while Pakistan lack in terms of recent match experience as well as potential match-winners, they should make it up by sheer hunger for success. Babar Azam and his men will be far more desperate to win this high-voltage World Cup opener which comes just weeks after Pakistan cricket faced twin blows following New Zealand and England’s withdrawals from their much-anticipated tour of the country. At that time, Ramiz Raja, the new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), had stressed that such setbacks won’t happen if Pakistan establish themselves as the world’s best team. A much-needed win against India on Sunday won’t make them the world’s best team but it will certainly put the misfiring Pakistanis on the right track.

Will Pakistan be able to rewrite history in Dubai? Will Babar Azam succeed where the likes of Imran Khan failed? It might seem like quite an uphill task but the Pakistan team, despite its obvious weaknesses, has the potential to surprise the high-flying Indians. In the 20-over format, one explosive knock or a sensational bowling spell can take the game away from the opposition. Batters like Fakhar Zaman, hero of Pakistan’s last memorable triumph over India in the Champions Trophy final in 2017, are capable of delivering such a knockout punch. Then, Pakistan also have pacers like Shaheen Shah Afridi, rated by many as one of the best left-armers in world cricket. Pakistan will need the best not just from stars like Fakhar and Shaheen but from each of the 11 men who take the field against India on Sunday night. If they do that, anything will be possible.