T20 World Cup: India and Pakistan revive rivalry in the US, on an uneven pitch | Crickit

T20 World Cup: India and Pakistan revive rivalry in the US, on an uneven pitch

Jun 09, 2024 06:19 AM IST

India made a winning start and their rivals suffered a Super Over stumble; it will add spice to Sunday’s clash

From Durban to Dubai, Mirpur to Melbourne, eight previous editions of the T20 World Cup have taken the storied rivalry between India and Pakistan across different continents. On Sunday, an exciting new chapter will be added to this frenzied face-off in the unlikeliest of places — the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in a corner of Long Island, an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of New York.

Rohit Sharma of India looks on during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 (Getty Images via AFP)
Rohit Sharma of India looks on during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 (Getty Images via AFP)

The offbeat destination and expensive ticket prices won’t deter cricket fans of both countries — New York, pretty much like anywhere else in the world, has a sizeable population of Indians and Pakistanis — from strutting into the stadium in large numbers to provide a carnival atmosphere befitting a clash between these two great adversaries. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is all too aware of this unquenchable thirst for cricket between India and Pakistan, which is why they are made to face each other early on in every marquee event.

Beyond the venue, adding to the sense of the unknown is also the nature of the pitch for the match. With the makeshift venue put together just in time for the T20 World Cup in the US and Caribbean, the four drop-in pitches in the centre square have simply not had enough time to settle in. The balance of play, as a result, hasn't been in favour of the batters. Variable bounce has meant that a few balls have kept a fraction low while some others have taken off disconcertingly even when the length hasn’t been all that short. Excessive movement off the pitch has also troubled batters.

All three games at the venue so far have been low-scoring affairs. While Sri Lanka were bowled out for 77 against South Africa to lose the opening game by six wickets, Ireland did only marginally better against India with a total of 96. After India sealed an eight-wicket win, ICC, amid growing concerns, issued a statement acknowledging the undercooked tracks and said that they are working hard to redeem the situation.

For what it’s worth, Canada did slightly better against Ireland on the surface by scoring 137/7, securing a 12-run win on Friday. So, what will Sunday bring?

While the characteristics are unlikely to drastically change, one can only hope the surface somehow produces an even and enjoyable contest between bat and ball. Having been in New York for more than a week, India are likely to be more attuned to the subtleties of the pitch and boundary dimensions. They are also likely to be more relaxed despite the hype and fervour that will reach a crescendo at 10:30 am local time. They are comfortably placed in Group A — the top two teams from each group advance to the Super Eight stage — after a comprehensive win against Ireland in their opening fixture.

In contrast, Pakistan’s predicament is dire. Stung by debutants USA in Dallas on Thursday, Pakistan are facing a crunch game far earlier in the tournament than they would have anticipated. Before the tournament, this game seemed designed to serve the purpose of raking in the moolah and satisfy fans starved of the rivalry, for neither team’s fortunes in this tournament seemed dependent on the outcome.

Now, Pakistan are in desperate need of a positive result to try and force a three-way tie in the group. It’s not beyond them, although the head-to-head record at T20 World Cups favours India at 5-1.

While Pakistan’s batting unit may be cut some slack for its meek effort against USA since it is their weaker suit, their excellent pace attack cannot afford to be as lacklustre as it was in Dallas. If pacers Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Naseem Shah get their radar right with the new ball, there is enough in their repertoire to suggest they can trouble Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. For the players, these high-pressure games are often about visualising positive thoughts as part of their preparation, something Kohli should have in abundance given his record against Pakistan.

In 10 matches versus the old rivals, Kohli has scored 488 runs at 81.33, his exploits including a nerveless 82* in a cracking run chase at Melbourne two years ago.

Even if India’s two most distinguished batters at the top have an off-day, they are unlikely to be overly perturbed. In Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube and Hardik Pandya, there is enough middle-order meat to propel the innings. Pant sparkled in his unbeaten cameo versus the Irish bowlers the other day, finishing the game with a flourish, a cheeky reverse lap for six. That Jasprit Bumrah led an all-round bowling display was further cause for comfort.

These differing circumstances early on in the tournament should enliven a contest that has lost some of its edginess in recent years.

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