Pakistan, England promise an epic T20 World Cup final
Rain threatens to curtail final and could spill into reserve day but if it doesn’t, Melbourne Cricket Ground is ready to host what promises to be a thriller.
There are narratives and then there are counternarratives, slow strategic build-ups as opposed to instinct-fuelled turnarounds, logic against bare-knuckled whim. Neither team conforms to any stereotype but the intrigue is discernible—this after all is a World Cup final between two teams that lost to Ireland and Zimbabwe. But England and Pakistan have not allowed those setbacks to define their campaign. They didn’t gather momentum, yet they kept pushing till they found the touch that promises a T20 version of one of the great one-day finals at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 30 years ago.
Now, like then, Pakistan are the more mercurial team—losing to their biggest rivals in an edge-of-the-seat thriller, slipping against Zimbabwe, almost packing their bags till the Dutch threw them a lifeline by sinking South Africa. Pakistan didn’t need a second invitation. And so, three weeks after the defeat that almost brought them to their knees, Pakistan are back at their field of dreams. If they win, and there is already a 50% chance of that, cricket will be enriched with more legends.
There’s no denying the facts though. England are the stronger batting side. Pakistan have the better bowling attack. England are fitter, sharper on the field and thrive on a data-driven approach that sparked a white-ball revolution for the ages. Pakistan have freakish talents and a raw instinct for winning ICC finals, irrespective of how they reach it. There are similarities too. Both teams’ over-reliance on openers is well-documented. And in many ways the middle order has not been tested enough.
But there is no way you can quantify a team better than the other. England bat deep, they have a complementing spin attack and some of the best hitters of the game come in at No 6 or 7. Pakistan more than compensate with a six-man bowling attack that has among others, Shadab Khan, who has been a revelation with his all-round skills.
More than anything, this is an opportunity to establish a white-ball legacy few other teams have been able to achieve. Pakistan, having won the Champions Trophy in 2017, have the opportunity to add a second T20 World Cup to it. But England are primed to front a white-ball renaissance, having won the ODI World Cup in 2019. “Yeah, I don't think there's at any time loads of chances for world tournaments,” Buttler said on Saturday. “They don't come around too often. As a group a few of us are getting a little bit older, but I think in the professional age you can generally play a little bit longer; maybe if you look after yourself, and of course there’s always plenty to play for.
“You're never quite sure how long things are going to last for you as a player or as an era, as such. But certainly, you don’t come down these roads very often, whether you’re a youngster or you’re into your 30s. Of course, the chances are going to be fewer and fewer when you’re a bit older. But that just gives you that added determination and drive to try and make it happen.”
Between the teams, England are probably more on the cusp of history. Under Eoin Morgan, England reached the semi-finals in all ICC events since the 2015 World Cup where they were eliminated in the group phase. Under Buttler, there is a possibility to extend that legacy. England have been on the threshold of this glory before, till Carlos Brathwaite smoked four sixes in a row at Eden Gardens in the 2016 final.
Pakistan are under pressure as well. “I’m more excited than nervous since we’ve performed well in our last three matches,” said Pakistan captain Babar Azam. “It is no doubt that pressure exists but it can only be suppressed with confidence and belief in ourselves. And for good results it is pertinent that one must do so.”
England are in a better position, having gone through a heart-stopping World Cup final in 2019. They know exactly what it takes to win a World Cup. “Of course, we're still reaping the rewards of Eoin Morgan's tenure and the changes that have happened in the white-ball game in England. That's clear to see in the strength and depth of the talent we now have in the white-ball game in England. We're very much right in the back of that wave, of course, but there's a bit of a new direction, as well,” said Buttler.
Pakistan may well feel they are living in the past. Mentions of 1992 come up every second instance as Babar Azam tries to keep it relevant till he admits there have been comparisons with that campaign. “Yes. I believe we couldn't start off well but we came back with great momentum. In the previous 3-4 matches, Pakistan have played very well on both individual and team levels. We've been working really hard for this. It feels like a dream come true to reach the final.”