New Delhi: A determined Babar Azam will be aiming to secure his seat beside the great Imran Khan in Pakistan cricket’s Hall of Fame as his team takes on a formidable England in the T20 World Cup final here on Sunday. The passage of the 2009 champions into the final could even beat a Hollywood thriller script as they were down and out after the first week of the tournament with morale-shattering defeats to arch-rivals India and Zimbabwe.
Pakistan raised hopes of a dramatic comeback in the second week of the tournament with a win over South Africa and a prayer on their lips for some divine intervention. Just like in 1992, miracle happened when the Netherlands produced a performance for the ages to shock South Africa and out of nowhere, Pakistan were back in contention for a semifinal berth.
Critics say that in cricket, you never know which Pakistan turns on a particular day and the semifinal performance against a well-rounded New Zealand side showed that when it comes to playing edge-of-the-seat ‘Russian roulette’, the ‘Green Machines’ are second to none. But just like everyone wants a slice of ’92 from Babar’s team, the core of this current English team also has a date with history on this very Australian soil.
Seven years ago in 2015, this was the country where England’s white ball cricket lay in tatters after they were dumped out of the competition at the group league stage by Bangladesh. The white ball cricket transformation started with horses for courses approach by the ECB, leading to a sea change in the mindset and intent of the English players. That fearless approach was on full display against India on Thursday.
The Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammed Wasim Jr, and Harris Rauf will need way more than just inspiration to get past the likes of Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. These are all sought-after practitioners of T20 cricket and all of them have abilities to silence the 80,000-odd Pakistan fans, just like they did with the bulk of the 42,000 Indian fans in Adelaide.
Can Afridi do a Wasim Akram when Buttler is batting or Babar and Rizwan take the game deep in their own style like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad did in that 1992 final. Big matches always bring big performers to the center stage and Stokes for one wouldn’t mind a repeat of his 2019 Lord’s performance to win the silverware.
The weather forecast predicts that the final could be marred by rain on both Sunday and the reserve day, which is Monday. Unlike a normal T20 game which could be a minimum five-over contest, the event technical committee has kept provisions for minimum 10-overs a side contest with an early (3pm Melbourne time) start on reserve day, if needed.
On a spicy deck like the MCG, the presence of Mark Wood would have been an advantage but the tearaway quick’s back isn’t holding up well. Despite the pasting he got from Hardik Pandya, Chris Jordan is a fine T20 bowler in his own right and would like to use his extensive BBL experience to get the better of the Pakistani batters.
If both batting units are taken into account, England with Hales, Buttler, Stokes, Phil Salt (in place of Dawid Malan), Harry Brook, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone look stronger on paper against Pakistan with Rizwan, Babar, Shan Masood, Mohammed Haris and Iftikhar Ahmed.
But on big days, it is not always the names that matter but also the mindset and temperament to last the distance.
England: Jos Buttler (captain), Alex Hales, Phil Salt, Harry Brook, Liam Livingstone, Adil Rashid, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Sam Curran, Mark Wood, Tymal Mills.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammed Rizwan, Shan Masood, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammed Haris, Khushdil Shah, Asif Ali, Haider Ali, Mohammed Wasim, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, Shadab Ahmed, Mohammed Nawaz, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammed Hasnain.