Melbourne, Oct 22: Exactly 364 days ago, there was a lot of hype and excitement around India and Pakistan meeting each other in Dubai to kickstart their 2021 Mens T20 World Cup campaign. In that match, Pakistan blew away India by ten wickets to break their winless run against their neighbours in T20 World Cups.
Come Sunday, and the two teams will renew the greatest rivalry in the cricket world yet again when they face off against each other at a sold-out Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to begin their 2022 T20 World Cup Group 2 campaign. However, the rain could play spoilsport in the marquee match, with Australia's bureau of meteorology predicting a 70% chance of showers, most likely in the late afternoon and evening.
Both India and Pakistan had their final warm-up fixtures washed out in Brisbane earlier in the week. While India have all players available for selection, Pakistan have been given a sigh of relief with Shan Masood available after being hit on the head in Friday's practice session though Fakhar Zaman has been ruled out due to him still recovering from a knee injury.
India are entering the competition on the back of embracing an attacking approach with the bat, which is in complete opposite of their timid attitude last year. But they are without two of their biggest assets in the shortest format of the game: Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah.
With Axar Patel admiringly filling in for Jadeja's absence, it remains to be seen if Mohammed Shami, who got his yorkers spot-on in the final over of the warm-up match against Australia, can step into Bumrah's shoes in the tournament.
"Just speaking about him first, the guy has got so much experience playing for so many years for India and has played World Cup, as well, before. We all know the quality that he has. When Bumrah got injured, we always wanted to have someone experienced in the lineup, and Shami was the right choice for us."
"Looking at what has happened with him in the last 20-25 days, obviously he got Covid-19 back home, had to miss the home series that we played leading up to the World Cup, but again, with the kind of experience that he has, we know that he will not be short of match practice," were skipper Rohit Sharma's words on Shami in the pre-match press conference.
With the batting, Rohit, K.L. Rahul and Virat Kohli have to give India the start they need in the bigger grounds of Australia apart from banking high on the x-factor from a scintillating Suryakumar Yadav.
Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik will be shouldering the finishing duties while Axar also has to give the left-handed edge with the bat, which could keep Rishabh Pant, someone who has got success in Australia previously, out of the eleven.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have their batting responsibilities on the shoulders of their opening pair, skipper Babar Azam and wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan. Though their middle order is a soft underbelly, the game-changing promotion of Mohammad Nawaz in the Asia Cup Super Four match will still be fresh in India's mind.
Pakistan's bowling attack has been given a huge boost by the return of left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi apart from Mohammad Wasim Jr, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf in their ranks. Azam had said in the pre-match press conference that Pakistan will bank on the extremely crucial inputs given by their in-form pacer Rauf, who calls MCG home while playing for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League (BBL).
"Haris Rauf knows these conditions well as the MCG is his home ground at the Big Bash League (while playing for Melbourne Stars). He's passed on some very useful information to batters as well as bowlers regarding the conditions here."
"As a bowler, the way he's leading and improving, he didn't make us feel the absence of Shaheen (Shah Afridi) by stepping up and doing the job for Pakistan in every situation. We will get a lot of help from it."
If Sunday's high-octane clash becomes a truncated affair, India have got more depth and cutting edge than Pakistan. But with the mercurial Melbourne weather looming, one can never count out an unpredictable Pakistan side, just like what happened in Dubai almost a year ago.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Arshdeep Singh and Mohammad Shami.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shan Masood.