India couldn't have asked for a better opponent to begin their ICC T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE. Not just from a fan's perspective, with the tie selling more tickets and views than arguably any other game. But mostly owing to their superior or rather an unbeaten record against Pakistan across World Cup meetings. And come Sunday, the Men in Blue will aim to maintain their winning streak when they take on Babar Azam's men in their tournament opener in Dubai.
India, deemed the favourites in the UAE this year, have beaten Pakistan seven times in 50-over World Cup meetings and hold a 5-0 record in World T20s. They also head into the competition on the back of two wins in the warm-up games - against Australia and England. Despite their miserable head-to-head record, Pakistan do have the firepower to create an early upset in the competition. They hold the second-best win-loss record (1.8) this year among Super 12 competitors and defeated 2016 champions West Indies in their first warm-up game.
Ahead of the high-octane clash on Sunday, we take a look at some of the key battles...
1. Rohit Sharma vs Shaheen Afridi: The Indian opener's struggle against left-arm pace is well documented. In T20s, Rohit averages 21.1 and has scored at almost a run-a-ball rate against left-arm pacers since 2019, among the least against all the bowling varieties. The numbers plummet during the powerplay phase where he averages only 19.8 in T20s since 2019, with a strike rate of 114.5 with four dismissals. In T20I World Cups, he has been dismissed five times by left-arm pacers, scoring only 110 runs at a strike rate of 129.4.
Afridi, on the other hand, has dismissed 14 right-handers during the powerplay phase in the T20s since 2019 at a strike rate of 20.9.
The two have however faced each other only once before, in 2018 in an ODI game where Rohit managed 19 runs of 18 deliveries against the left-armer.
2. Virat Kohli vs Shaheen Shah Afridi: An early dismissal of Rohit would expose Kohli to the left-arm pace variety, against which he has been dismissed four times in the last two years in the T20s, averaging 28.5 at a strike rate of 128.1. The two are yet to face each other in any form of cricket.
3. Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav vs Mohammad Nawaz: The presence of five right-handers, if India stick to the same XI, makes the slow-left-arm orthodox spinner in Nawaz a better choice than a struggling Shadab Khan. Moreover, both Kohli and Suryakumar have struggled against the variety - the captain has a paltry strike rate of 94.9 while the latter scores at 6.48 runs per over - the worst against any variety in T20s for both the batsman since 2020.
4. Babar Azam vs Jasprit Bumrah: The best bowler against the opposition's best batsman is a contest to relish. In the last two T20 seasons, Babar has been Pakistan's most prolific run-getter scoring 1241 runs at an average of 65.3 and with a strike rate of 129.7. Bumrah, on the other hand, has picked 48 wickets at just 17 with a strike rate of 14.4. The two have faced each other in only the ODI format, where Babar has managed 17 runs off 26 deliveries without a dismissal.
5. Haider Ali, Shoaib Malik vs Varun Chakravarthy, Ravindra Jadeja: Pakistan will have a minimum of eight overs of spin on Sunday leaving their middle-order lineup with a task cut out against the likes of Varun and Jadeja. In T20s since 2019, Haider has shown signs of struggle against left-arm orthodox, scoring at a strike rate of 124.4 with two dismissals but is yet to be dismissed by the right-arm leg break variety against which he scores at a strike rate of 176.7. Malik, on the other hand, averages 37 with a strike rate of 139.6 against left-arm orthodox and scores at a strike rate of 152 against the latter.