There are very few match-ups in the world of sport that create the same hype as an India-Pakistan cricket match. There aren't many rivalries in sport that incite such strong emotions from either end. And there are fewer clashes in sport, globally that seem more personal for the people than for the players. By the admission of the two captains, Virat Kohli and Babar Azam, their upcoming meeting at the 2021 T20 World Cup will "just be another game" but the will to win will be as high as ever.
More so for Pakistan, who have never been able to defeat their neighbours in the showpiece event. The two arch-rivals, as the romantics of the sport like to call them, have met each other five times at a T20 WC only to see the 'Men in Blue' emerge victorious. However, on October 24 at the Dubai International Stadium, both sides will head into the match with an equal chance to win.
India, the 2007 champions, will begin their campaign with an aim to bring down the curtains on Kohli's T20I captaincy on a high and clinch their first ICC trophy under his leadership. More importantly, head coach Ravi Shastri, captain Kohli, and the management would look to find the right combination. All-rounder Hardik Pandya holds the key to India striking the right balance; if he is able to return to bowling, Kohli would feel comfortable going in with two other front-line pacers. But if Pandya still can't bowl, the management would be forced to play an extra all-rounder to find the sixth bowler.
Whether India play Ishan Kishan or Suryakymar Yadav is another question that continues to loom. The swashbuckling Jharkhand batsman Kishan made a strong case for himself in the opening warm-up game against England by smashing 70. On the other hand, Yadav did not heavily impress in the first practice match but played an assured knock of 38 not out in the second against Australia. With Kohli confirming that KL Rahul will open Rohit Sharma, the tussle for the no.5 spot in the line-up, after Rishabh Pant at 4, is likely to pick up heat.
And finally, at least for the opening clash, the side could play both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the same XI. Throughout the year across formats, the debate on choosing between the two has continued to rage on. While Jadeja has more or less become an automatic selection due to his improved batting abilities; Ashwin's impressive spell against Australia, along with the experience he brings to the table, could work in his favour.
As for Azam's Pakistan, the captain and his wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan hold the most highest amount of importance in the squad. The duo is currently the highest run-getters across T20s this year and share 29 fifty-plus scores between them. Moreover, Azam is currently one of the highest-rated batters on earth currently and the team depends heavily on his exploits.
The focus will also be on the Pakistani pace attack, comprising of a talent young lot in Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, and Hasan Ali. Afridi is currently the side's most consistent bowler and will once again lead the pace attack. He picked up two wickets in their previous warm-up game against South Africa but Rauf (0/33) and Ali (0/52) received a pounding.
The "Green Army" also boast highly experienced veteran all-rounders as well. Be it Shoaib Malik or Mohammad Hafeez, Azam will always find a guiding light on the field. The two players played the inaugural World Cup in 2007 and their off-spin can also prove to be handy against the India top and middle order.
Date and Venue:
Sunday, October 24- Dubai International Stadium, Dubai.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami
Reserves: Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Chahar, Axar Patel Mentor: MS Dhoni
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik.
Reserves: Khushdil Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir.