Babar Azam’s Pakistan will look to end their losing streak against India at the Twenty20 World Cup when the two rivals begin their title race in a Sunday blockbuster.
India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups.
However, Pakistan come into the Super 12s contest with 10 wins in a row in the United Arab Emirates and former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar believes the team has struck the right balance to challenge Virat Kohli’s India.
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“A week ago I had apprehensions about the team but now they have made certain changes and they look a decent, well-balanced side now,” Nazar told AFP.
“Pakistan stand a very good chance as they have experienced players who have played a lot against India. India start as favourites and they have all the areas covered but in T20 anybody could beat anybody on their day.” Azam, who is in top form with two T20 centuries this year, believes his team can break the World Cup jinx.
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all the departments.”
The two teams last met in the 2019 ODI World Cup in England as India only plays Pakistan in multi-nation events after cutting off bilateral cricket ties with their neighbours following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
India, who have blamed Pakistan for importing terror, last hosted their neighbours in a bilateral series in 2013 during a brief thaw in their rivalry.
There have been protests in India with calls to boycott the match in the wake of recent killings of 11 migrant workers and minority Hindus and Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir.
But fans from both the nations have shown immense interest in watching Sunday’s game in Dubai as tickets for the key contest were sold out hours after they went on sale early this month.
Kohli, though, has downplayed the hype around the encounter, saying “it’s just another game” of cricket.
“I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there is a lot of hype created around this game more so with ticket sales and the demands for tickets,” said Kohli.
“Yes, the environment, you can say, is different. From the fans’ point of view, it is definitely louder. From the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can.”
India’s two-time World Cup-winning skipper M.S. Dhoni is with the team as mentor and Kohli said the icon’s presence in the dressing room will further “boost” their morale.
Dhoni led India to the inaugural T20 World Cup crown in 2007, beating Pakistan in the final, and hold a 7-1 advantage in the shortest format.
Pakistan’s only win came in a bilateral series which ended 1-1. India head into the contest with two big wins against England and Australia in their warm-up matches with openers KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma scoring big runs.
Pakistan will depend on the experience of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik while Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman hold the key at the top of the order.
The bowling, led by Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali, looks potent to trouble any opposition in the Super 12 stage.
Meanwhile India batting great Sunil Gavaskar says India will be the team to beat in the Twenty20 World Cup with a “well-balanced” unit and mentor M.S. Dhoni’s experience.
“India has a well-balanced team and its performances in the warm-up games have been outstanding so they definitely are the team to watch out for,” Gavaskar told AFP.
Virat Kohli’s India, who bowed out of the semi-finals in the previous edition in 2016, outplayed England and Australia in their two warm-up matches in Dubai with top batsmen KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma scoring half-centuries.
The pace attack led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah is looking good and premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin got Australia’s David Warner and Mitchell Marsh off successive deliveries in their last tune-up.
The presence of former captain Dhoni in the team has been a big boost for Kohli and his players.
Rohit is the only member of the current team that won the inaugural title under Dhoni when they beat Pakistan in a thrilling final in Johannesburg in 2007.
Gavaskar said the experience of Dhoni, who won India two World Cups including the 2011 50-over crown, would be key to India’s showing in the United Arab Emirates.
“Dhoni should be bringing all his experience into play,” Gavaskar said. “And helping with strategy especially in tough match situations.”
Dhoni, who recently led Chennai Super Kings to their fourth Indian Premier League crown, played 448 white-ball matches in his illustrious international career between 2004-2019.
The 32-year-old Kohli took over as India’s captain across formats from Dhoni in 2017.
But a World Cup win still awaits Kohli who will step down as the national T20 skipper after this tournament.
But Gavaskar said the team is above individuals and the fact that they haven’t won a major title in eight years is motivation enough to bring the T20 title home.
“First and foremost it’s a team that wins or loses a title not an individual,” said Gavaskar, who was part of India’s World Cup-winning team in 1983 under Kapil Dev.
“So since India’s last world title was in 2013 the players would be keen to win another title this time around and end the title drought.”
However Gavaskar, who had predicted England’s 50-over World Cup triumph to AFP in 2019, said the shortest format is unpredictable and tough to call.
“The T20 format is the hardest format to predict as the game can turn on its head in an over or two,” said Gavaskar.
“So no predictions but hoping that India will win the Trophy.”