Traditionally, India-Pakistan cricket matches have been seen as contests decided by the former’s batting and the latter’s bowling. That hasn’t changed much over the years, but their last confrontation may have given us a fresh perspective on it.
The Men in Blue’s first defeat against their neighbours at a World Cup came last year – a comprehensive takedown by 10 wickets. With India having 152 runs to defend, the bowling attack consisting of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami was unable to pick a single wicket as Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan finished the game all by themselves.
So as India go into their next meeting with Pakistan in the Asia Cup, the task for their bowling unit will be cut out against a Pakistan batting order with multiple options and in the absence of quite a few big names from their first-choice bowling attack.
Babar, not the only big name in the Pakistan batting
A big reason for Pakistan’s run to the T20 World Cup semifinals last year was the fact that they had multiple match-winners with the bat apart from, of course, Babar, who was the tournament’s highest run-scorer.
Rizwan was not too far behind his captain in the runs column with 281 in six outings that included three fifties. Both have scored more than 1,000 T20I runs since the beginning of 2021 and are the only two apart from Nicholas Pooran to have done so.
Fakhar Zaman came to the party against Australia, whacking the white ball at a strike rate above 170 in the semifinal.
Asif Ali cooked two authentic T20 cameos in the group stage (27* off 12 balls vs New Zealand and 25* off 7 balls vs Afghanistan) that brought wins for Pakistan despite the top order not scoring big. The 30-year-old has been tonking the ball at a 150-plus strike rate wearing Pakistan colours in the format since 2021. So has Mohammad Nawaz. Even though they may not have accumulated anywhere near as many runs as the two openers, Pakistan’s middle order consists of go-big- or-go-home brand of T20 hitters, who resonate well with the format.
That captain Babar has been gluttonous across formats ahead of the Asia Cup is a huge positive, but this Pakistan batting isn’t one that looks confused and out of options if their talisman walks back early.
Litmus test for India’s bowlers pre-World Cup
It is hard to picture an Indian team playing at the T20 World Cup without Bumrah, one from the rare breed of all-format performers in contemporary cricket. Harshal Patel, since that freak of an IPL 2021 season, has also been visibly in the team management’s plans going into the format’s main event in Australia this year. Both of them will miss the Asia Cup owing to injuries. And in their absence, the pace line-up includes Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan. The presence of Hardik Pandya will bolster the attack but let’s keep an eye on the three aforementioned, who have something to prove.
Bhuvneshwar, who has been a leader of the Indian T20I bowling attack for the majority of this summer, will have that responsibility again. The 32-year-old has picked most wickets for India (23) post last year’s tournament in the UAE. That in-swinger to Jos Buttler will live long in the memory.
Now, India have coupled Avesh as Bhuvneshwar’s new- ball partner before and that seems more likely to be the case for this tournament as well. For someone who has 11 wickets in 12 T20Is and an economy rate exceeding 8.5 runs per over, this is an excellent opportunity for Avesh to emerge as a candidate for that ticket to Australia this October. Arshdeep may have only half as many T20Is under his belt but his impact has been considerable – nine wickets at an economy of just 6.33, which is the best for any Indian bowler who has played in more than five T20Is since the last World Cup.
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Even before he played for India, the 23-year-old had been touted as a T20 thoroughbred by many, courtesy his IPL performances that made him one of only two players Punjab Kings retained. Being a left-arm medium-fast bowler – one doesn’t see plenty of them anymore – the simple science of the unique angle that he brings added to his skill of choking the batters in the death overs through line, length and pace variation, Arshdeep might well be the bowler India deploys alongside Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar at the World Cup.
So, case made, right? A batting unit with multiple run-getting options. A bowling unit that has tests of their own to go through. About time we lend ourselves a fresh perspective of watching India play Pakistan.