India-Pakistan games aren’t for the faint-hearted. It is not just the players’ skills, but temperament also plays a significant factor in the outcome. There will be match-ups and The Indian Express argues about the crucial moments which might play a big role in the T20 World Cup clash between India and Pakistan. If the rain gods stay away, we will have another cracker at the MCG on Sunday.
Shaheen’s first over
There are lots of questions regarding Pakistan’s ace speedster Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is making a comeback after a long injury layoff. Is he back to his best? Will he have the same impact as he had in the last T20 World Cup against India in the UAE? The simple answer is to ask Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz.
In the warm-up match against Afghanistan, Afridi trapped Gurbaj with a brute of an inswinging yorker and the batter was carried off by the substitute fielders and was later taken for a scan. Very next ball, he almost took the wicket of Ibrahim Zadran, with the ball missing the off-stump by a whisker.
Exactly a year ago, in Dubai, Pakistan ended their winless streak against their arch-rivals, thrashing India by 10 wickets. And it was Shaheen Shah Afridi who set the tone for Pakistan’s famous win. Rohit Sharma will never forget the unplayable delivery he faced. KL Rahul was done in by another in-ducker, the ball shaping in and going through the gate. It was Afridi’s frontal assault that forced India on the back foot.
Come Sunday, the showstopper Afridi will again test the Indian openers. Shaheen’s intensity in their pre-match warm-up served as an indication that the lanky pacer is back at his pomp and is ready to fire on all cylinders.
The hard-length experts
In stark contrast to Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, another in-form bowler to watch out for in the middle and at the death, Bhuvneshwar Kumar looked pedestrian in Dubai. Indian bowlers hardly bowled on a good length and were thwarted by a heady mixture of Babar Azam’s class and Mohammed Rizwan’s smash.
The pitches in Australia will be different from Dubai. Bowlers who can bowl hard lengths will play a key role. For Pakistan, all their six pacers — Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Wasim Jr, and Shahnazwaz Dahhani – can trouble the batters with pace and bounce. For India, Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya will enjoy the Australian conditions.
Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had bounced out Pakistan batters in the first game in Asia Cup, and would be looking to exploit chink in the opposition’s armor. In the recent series, England, in particular Mark Wood, did harass the Pakistani batters with his searing short-ones.
In India’s warm-up match against Australia. KL Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav scored fluent half-centuries but the duo also got the taste of the extra bounce as both were hit on the helmet. Mitchell Starc bounced out Virat Kohli. Haris Rauf, who considers MCG as his home, will be looking forward to making life difficult for the Indian batters.
The finger spin arsenal
“In Australia, they attack with the finger spinners,” former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik had recently said on A Sports. “The left-arm orthodox spinners do well in Big Bash; they also get wickets. My BBL captain George Bailey used to use my off-spin even against two set batsmen. I gave him a stare once (laughs) and he said, ‘no you have a better chance of taking wickets, run rate will drop automatically’.”
In Mohammed Nawaz, Pakistan have just the arsenal Malik mentioned. With India having one too many right handers in their batting lineup, a spinner who can turn the ball away from them will be a big asset for Babar Azam and co. This, especially with the boundaries at the Melbourne Cricket Ground not the smallest ones to clear without pace on the ball.
The pitch being fresh would also mean more bounce being generated from the surface and sweep/reverse sweeps tougher to execute.
Once considered owners of god-gifted wrists to easily manoeuvre spin bowling, India batters have found it hard to face them compared to pacers. Since 2021, spinners have had an economy of 8.06 against Indian batters in the shorter format, whereas the pacers have conceded more (9.17).
Jasprit Bumrah averages one perfect yorker in two balls in T20I, according to a CricViz stat. Injury to him made things complicated for India in the death bowling department. The bowling has been leaking a lot of runs at the death. Especially the 19th over which is the most crucial over of the innings. In the recently concluded Asia Cup, the ever-reliable Bhuvneshwar Kumar gave away 19 and 14 runs against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the 19th over in pressure situations. Which eventually cost the team the games that eliminated them from the tournament in the Super 4 round.
Harshal Patel, the specialist death bowler since coming back from injury, hasn’t been great either. He has conceded more than 50 runs in his quota of four overs five times since his return most in a year by any Indian bowler. And in theory, his slower-ones are going to find it difficult to grip on bouncy Australian surfaces. For some reason, he is yet to show confidence in the dipping slower ones he possesses ala Dwayne Bravo, which could work even in Australia.
Both Bhuvi and Harshal have an economy of 9.54 and 10.73 at death respectively. The left-arm Arshdeep has been doing well with the ball but he alone cannot handle all the burden. The young Punjab bowler has an economy of 8.85 in the final phase of the innings.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s death bowling is looking solid. Haris Rauf has been lethal. Rauf has a good yorker and slower ball up his sleeve. He hits the 150 kmph mark regularly and since 2020, Haris Rauf has had a death bowling economy of 7.78. Left-arm seamer Shaheen Afridi has an economy of 9.45 at death.