Three things which I believe fascinate, enthral and hypnotize the people of two nuclear neighbors of subcontinent; are politics, religion and cricket. Cricket at times decolorizes religion and politics here. Cricket frenzied fans on both sides of international border, are so obsessed with cricket patriotism that many collapse to cardiac arrests while as some resort to wild celebrations. It is a juggernaut and a steamroller in the subcontinent. Cricket is more than a game here, because, it rules our hearts, souls and emotions. International cricketers in India and Pakistan are loved, applauded and pampered at par with political stalwarts and great heroes. With T20 world cup around the corner, cricket temperature is soaring high in the entire subcontinent. Fans have begun to make threadbare analysis of different high voltage matches of the tournament. Though COVID19 pandemic had halted the blitzkrieg of international cricket for some time, but, of late, the charm of cricket is back in full swing. T20 world cup has already been kicked off in the UAE and Oman where cricket stadiums in the lap of deserts, bear a lush green velvety look, which mesmerise and enchant onlookers. The world of cricket is all set to witness some absorbing and glorious display of willow and leather. Star cricketers have pulled their socks up, to give their best for their national sides. Cricket fans are no way behind. Frenetic Indo-Pak cricket lovers are eagerly waiting for today’s game. Dubai will be abuzz with some nemesis like rivalry tonight. Two arch opponents viz India and Pakistan will lock horns tonight, at Dubai international stadium in Dubai, UAE. The match is rated as one of the most intense and ferocious encounters of the tournament. Millions of people across the globe will be glued to their television and mobile screens to enjoy some rip-roaring display of bat and ball. Both the teams have very often given us some cliffhangers and suspense-thrillers. The two arch rivals have a history of their own. The matches between the two sides very often go down the wire. Nail-biting and thrilling encounters between the two sides, not only check the nerves of players in the middle of the play-fields, but, hold the breath of exhilarated and emotional fans as well. During 80s and 90s, Pakistan team would very often steal the show in Indo-Pak games, but, the mercurial Indian side has begun to dominate things during the last two decades. Though Pakistan is still ahead of India in terms of stats in one day internationals and tests, but, the story is altogether different in T20s. The two sides have met each other on eight occasions in T20 internationals, where India has taken the lion’s share with 6 wins to their kitty and the solitary one has gone to Pak side; while as one game has ended in no result. In T20 world cups, the two sides have met five times, and India has emerged victorious on all the occasion. The story is no different in 50 over world cup matches, where Pakistan is yet to register its first win against India.
Indian team is one of favourite sides to clinch the title in the UAE. Indian players are well acclimatized to the conditions in the UAE. They might have understood the behaviour of pitches in the country. The team has many match winners and X factors. KL Rahul is in his dream run. He has accumulated runs at ease in the recently concluded IPL. He averages almost 40 in T20 internationals which is quite phenomenal. Inclusion of left handed Ishan Kishan has given impetus to the batting lineup of Indian side. The swashbuckling opener can destroy any bowling attack with his hard-hitting stroke play. Hitman Rohit Sharma is known for his heroics in the shortest format of the game. India will be eying on him to go bang bang against Pakistan. He is so volatile that his bat can crumble any good bowling attack. Run machine Virat Kohli is struggling with his form. He was not in his magical touch during the recently concluded IPL, in the UAE. He is probably going through the lean patch of his career. But, he can regain his form at any moment. The top four will decide India’s fortunes in the tournament. Rishab Pant and Surya Kumar Yadav can be devastating against any opposition. Hardik Pandya was quite off colour in the recently concluded IPL. He has some issues with his fitness as well. Ravinder Jadeja is in good nick. He can play little cameos to propelhis side to safety. With pitches offering help to spinners, Jadeja will be hoping to create magic with his fingers as well. Pace duo of Shami and Bumrah will be incharge of the fast bowling attack. The pair has the ability to hit the deck hard, can produce some genuine pace and can unnerve any batting side with their toe crushing yorkers. Varun Chakarwarthy, Ravi Chandran Ashvin and Yuzvender Chahal can be lethal on a given day. The side seems to be quite balanced and well equipped with armoury to beat any team. Experts consider India favourite in the opening game as well as in the entire tournament. On the other hand, Pakistanis will be eying to end the drought against India in the world cup tournaments. Though the present Pak side is comparatively a weaker side, but they can spring a surprise at any time. Unpredictability is synonymous to Pakistan cricket team. The team has some genuine match winners. Skipper Babar Azam is the trump card for Pakistan side. He is most prolific run-getter in the shortest format of the game. He has scored more than two thousand runs since 2016. He is quite ahead of his Indian contemporaries viz Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and hitman Rohit Sharma as for the shortest format of the game is concerned. The explosive right-hander has scored 523 runs in the shortest format, from 14 games, during 2021 with one century and four half centuries. The stylish batsman can pose serious challenges to an apparently formidable Indian bowling attack. Wicket keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan will be the X factor for Pakistan team. The exceptionally stupendous batter is leading the shortest format with 752 runs from 15 international games. He has broken the record of Irish opener Paul Stirling who had accumulated 748 runs in a calendar year. Rizwan has the ability to outdo any bowling attack in the world. Inclusion of Fakhar Zaman in the team, has fortified the top order of the team. The southpaw can devastate and pulverise the any bowling attack. Who can forget his heroics with bat in 2017 champions trophy finale against the same opponents. He laid foundations for the victory of the team in that great finale. All-rounders Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik will give stability and re-enforcement to an inexperienced side. Lack of a genuine all-rounder adds to the worries of Pakistan side. Pace attack without Mohammad Amir looks a bit weak and frail. Traditionally, Pakistan would mainly rely on its bowling attack, but, the pace arsenal available with the present Pakistan side is not as intimidating and scary as it used to be in the past. Tall, lanky pacer – Shaheen Shah Afridi has the ability to hit the deck hard, he can bowl with persistent line and length. He will lead the pace battery along with flamboyant Hassan Ali and Harris Rouf who are not probably in the best of their forms. Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Imad Wasim have a key role to play, because the wickets will be quite slow and spin friendly. Team India has availed the services of ex captain Mahindra Singh Dhoni who is believed to be one of the greatest brainiacs of the game. Pakistan team could have asked former greats like Wasim Akram to mentor the team. But, they have some issues in their administrative structure. Given the form and recent records, team India has upper hand in today’s match, but the unpredictable and eruptive Pak team can surprise the mighty Indian side. I believe that pressure will be equally same on both sides. The side which absorbs the pressure in a better way, will emerge victorious. People of both the nations are eagerly waiting for the thrilling encounter. Wish the game of cricket sinks the differences of the two neighboring nations. Cricket diplomacy can prove instrumental in the revival of bilateral relations between the two South Asian nuclear giants. Let’s hope for a suspense thriller tonight.
(Author is a teacher by profession. Views are his own)