With no bilateral cricket being played between the two nations since 2012-13, the two teams only meet each other in multi-nation tournaments and that’s what makes the contest much more intriguing, eagerly-awaited and catches the attention of billions of cricket lovers worldwide.
This will be the sixth time India and Pakistan will lock horns at the ICC T20 World Cup and India will be heading into the contest with a 5-0 head-to-head advantage at the tournament under their belts. Overall, the last time India and Pakistan faced off was in the 50-over World Cup in 2019, where Virat Kohli and co. beat the neighbors by 89 runs (D/L).
However, Pakistan would love to remember their 2017 Champions Trophy heroics where they outplayed India and take some confidence from that heading into the mouth-watering match-up coming up later today.
As the two nations get set for yet another skirmish in between the Dubai skyscrapers, here’s a look at some of the key contests within the contest that you should watch out for:
Virat Kohli vs Babar Azam – The captains and key batsmen
One of the hottest debates in recent times in the sub-continent, or at least in the neighboring country of Pakistan is that Babar Azam is as good a batsman as India’s Virat Kohli or is on the way to becoming like him. Many pundits have weighed in on this topic in the past and expressed their varied opinions on the comparisons.
In the upcoming India-Pakistan contest, the Virat Kohli and Babar Azam mini battle — the contest of the two captains and the batsmen will be up for a display. Although Babar will be playing his first T20 World Cup match for Pakistan against India, the form he has been in recently will be a big threat for India.
After scoring heavily in the past two years, Babar has been the key batting figure in Pakistan cricket, helping in the batting revival of his team. Going into the contest, Babar in the two warm-up matches also notched up a fifty (against West Indies) and will be the key batsman to watch-out in the Pakistan squad.
Kohli, on the other hand, has seen a dip in his batting form in the past two years. No international ton in this span and his recent form might be a bit of a concern for the team but Kohli going full-throttle in big matches is something that has happened in the past.
The skipper has also been instrumental for India in the T20 World Cups. 16 T20 World Cup matches in the past brings experience. Add to that, 777 runs in those matches highest overall run scorer at the T20 WC for India) at an average of 86.33 which speaks volumes of what Kohli brings to the table with his batting in the T20 World Cup.
Against Pakistan, in the T20 World Cup, Kohli has 169 runs to his name in three matches with a highest score of 78 not out.
Along with their batting performances, the way both players marshal their troops will be keenly observed in the mouth-watering contest.
Rohit Sharma vs Imad Wasim – Explosive opener vs left arm spinner
The contest between India’s heavyweight opener Rohit Sharma and left-arm spinner Imad Wasim will be an intriguing battle on display, especially in the powerplay overs, if Azam uses Imad in them. Imad, who is often used by Pakistan in the first six overs, has been terrific with the new ball in the recent past.
Chipping in with regular wickets at the start of the innings, Imad has been an impact player in the powerplay overs. And today, he will be up against the Hitman, who is known for his harsh treatment of spinners, especially in the shortest format of the game.
If skipper Babar Azam takes the risk of bringing in Imad early against Rohit, it will be interesting to see how the India opener reacts to the challenge. Along with the fielding restrictions, the impeccable touch and class of Rohit will come to his aid while how Imad uses his variations against Rohit will be an interesting to watch.
Experience on the biggest stage is in favour of Rohit. The India opener has been a part of all India T20 World Cup squads since the inaugural edition in 2007 and has 673 runs to his name in 28 matches. However, against Pakistan, Rohit is yet to fire at the T20 World Cup. In the 4 matches he has played against the arch-rivals, Rohit has just 64 runs to his name, but has smacked the bowlers at a strike rate of over 133.
Imad on the other hand, has been part of just 1 T20 World Cup squad before — in 2016 — where he played 3 matches and took three wickets. However, he is yet to play against India at the tournament.
In the 2 warm-up matches that Pakistan played before the World Cup, Imad, picked up three wickets and bowled pretty economical spells. Rohit, on the other hand, did not play the first warm-up game, but got into his groove, scoring 60 (retired out) against Australia in the second.
Varun Chakravarthy vs Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik – Mystery spinner vs two experienced batsmen
The X-factor of the Indian team in this T20 World Cup could well be mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy. The sensational Karnataka spinner has performed superbly in the past one year and it wasn’t a surprise really when he made a direct entry into India’s T20 World Cup squad.
A sort of an unusual action, world-class batsmen failing to pick-up the release of the ball and turn – they were wonderful sights to watch during the Indian Premier League where Varun played for Kolkata Knight Riders, who went all the way to the final, before finishing as the runners-up.
At the T20 World Cup, Varun is tipped to be a definite starter in the India playing XI for the big-ticket clash against Pakistan and one of the key battles will be how he bowls against the likes of Pakistani veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
Varun, who often bowls an over in the powerplay has been majorly used in the middle overs as he chokes the opposition batsmen for runs. Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik who have been part of Pakistan’s T20 set-up for over a decade and are battle-hardened players who play T20 leagues around the world should be up for a tough challenge.
The playmakers in the middle overs have got a lot of experience and will play a major role in how Pakistan tackle the Varun mystery.
Both Shoaib and Hafeez have been part of all of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup squads. But the duo has failed to deliver against India. While Shoaib has 100 runs in 5 matches, Hafeez has just 36 runs in 4 T20 World Cup matches against India.
It will be the battle of the largely inexperienced Varun versus two Pakistan veterans who have failed to make it big against India on the grandest T20 stage.
Jasprit Bumrah vs Asif Ali – Impact bowler and death overs specialist vs hard hitting batsman
Although Pakistan have been struggling with their batting fire-power in the death overs in the recent past, one player who has made headlines is all-rounder Asif Ali.
The hard-hitting batsmen, who has 344 runs to his name in 29 T20I matches so far, has been one of the names that has emerged which can give Pakistan the much-needed flourish in the final overs.
Against South Africa in the second warm-up game, Asif gave a glimpse of what he has to offer when he smoked an 18-ball 32.
But against India in the T20 World Cup game, he will have the world’s best death overs bowler — Jasprit Bumrah to counter in the final few overs. A yorker specialist, who has had tremendous success in curtailing the opposition’s run flow in the final overs could well be the biggest hurdle for Pakistan’s dreams of getting a big finish.
A T20I economy of 6.66, 59 wickets in 50 matches, speaks volumes of how menacing Bumrah is in the shortest format.
Along with Asif, the other middle-order batsmen too will have to think out-of-the-box if they are to have any success against India’s premier pacer.
As far as the previous encounters go, Bumrah has played Pakistan once in a T20 World Cup match — in 2016, while Pakistan’s Asif will be playing his first match against India.