The T-20 Cricket World Cup 2022 is all set to culminate today, at Melbourne Cricket Ground. The tournament has already sprung many surprises on cricket fans. There have been cliffhangers, one-sided encounters, and upsets. The mercurial and unexpected rise of Pakistan, the early exit of the Caribbean T20 powerhouse, Pakistan’s defeat to Zimbabwe by one run, and the Netherlands’ clinical defeat of the Proteas, were some highlights of the cricketing bonanza. Many hearts broke, and many went berserk with euphoria of victory. Many big guns failed to fire, while many underdogs produced magic with both bat and ball.
The tournament gave us some remarkable and sensational innings, spells, cameos and catches. Rain gods razed some hopes to the rubble. Chokers succumbed to their traditional frailty under big match pressure. Minnows like Zimbabwe and Netherlands made two heavyweights bite the dust. The English openers took the world by surprise when they stormed into the grand finale by thrashing the Indian bowling attack, very brutally. Some weird decisions from umpires added spice to the curry. Three runs off the Nawaz free-hit ball when he had clean bowled Virat in the Indo-Pak match saw netizens aghast and shocked.
Now, all eyes are focused on the historic MCG where Pakistan will lock horns with England. Both teams have had clinical performances in their semifinal encounters. Before making a threadbare analysis of the two sides, it is pertinent to mention that the 2022 final has many similarities with the 1992 ODI World Cup final, though it may be a mere coincidence. The venue, the teams, the fourth digit of the year, the dramatic rise of one of the finalists, the rains spoiling some matches at league stage, are some of the notable similarities between the two events. Whether history will be repeated or a new chapter is added to record books, we have to wait a little.
The MCG is believed to provide one of the most balanced wickets. The pitch is full of runs, but will surely help pacers in the beginning. Overall, a decent wicket to bat on. The straight boundaries at the MCG are longer while the square boundaries are comparatively shorter. Short-pitch stuff will definitely cost bowlers heavily. Bowlers should try to bowl fuller and make batsmen play towards long on and long off. Though runs on the board is the big-match maxim and mantra, but with rains around on both days, that is, the match day and the reserve day, the team winning toss will prefer to bowl first. Also, both the finalists have won their respective semifinals while chasing. So, batting 2nd is not a bad choice.
The Pakistani openers notched up a 100-plus opening partnership against New Zealand in the first semifinal. The duo of Babar and Rizwan had been lambasted for their below-par show in the tournament. But the swashbuckling pair showed grit and application at the crucial time, and managed to secure their berth in the grand finale with a bang. Their middle order has been good in patches. Iftikhar, Shan Masood and Shadab have scored runs but haven’t been consistent. The induction of young Mohammad Haris has given impetus to the Pak batting, but he should accelerate to improve his strike rate. You can’t win the world cup with a strike rate of 105 or 110. Spin all-rounders Shadab, Nawaz and Iftikhar reinforce the Pakistan batting. Shabad and Iftikhar were brilliant against South Africa, setting the tempo in Pakistan’s favour. Nawaz has played a couple of flamboyant innings in the recently concluded Asia Cup and Tri Series in New Zealand, but he still needs a day to outmaneuver the opposition on his own. It might be the finale.
Pakistan’s real strength is its bowling. Their pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi is back in rhythm and form, though he struggled a bit in the initial encounters of the tournament. The trio of Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Wasim have the ability to rip through any batting side. Naseem moves the new well, and can pose threats to the English openers. Haris bowls miserly at the death. Shadab produces magic with his flippers and googlies, though he went wicketless in the semifinal against the Kiwis and conceded more than 30 runs. But he has the potential to strike in the big match. Nawaz spins the ball less but can surprise batters. I won’t be surprised if Babar starts with the left arm spin of Nawaz.
The Englishmen must be flying high on confidence. But it won’t be a cakewalk for them to lift the title. Butler and Hales are in tremendous form. They hammered Indian bowlers as if they were playing tap-ball cricket. It was just immaculate and clean hitting. But Pakistan bowlers won’t be easy to handle. If the pair of Joss and Hales plays out the batting power play without losing a wicket, things may turn ugly for Pakistan. Pak bowlers will try hard to eliminate the opening pair in the batting power play. If it happens for Pakistan, they will take the control of the game because the English middle order has been rusty. Brook is not amongst scores, Salt couldn’t bat in his first game of the tournament, Curran, Stokes and Moeen haven’t played big cameos. So, if their middle order is exposed in the final, they may collapse to the Pak pace battery.
With Mark Wood out due to injury, Chris Jordan bowled well in the semifinal against India. He is a T20 specialist bowler. Curran can trouble the right-handed pair of Pakistan openers with his away going deliveries. Butler might open his bowling with Sam Curran because both Pak openers are right handers. Chris Woakes can hit the deck hard and swing the ball in the batting power play. The English captain has more bowling options available. Pakistan batsmen play spin well, but Adil Rashid, Livingstone and Moeen Ali make the English spin attack a versatile one. The Australian meteorological department has predicted rains today at MCG. Let’s hope the skies won’t open up, and cricket lovers across the globe get to watch a spine-chiller.
The writer is a teacher and columnist. [email protected]