Cricket, from the macrocosmic perspective, is the quintessential example of a team sport, where the success and failure of a team is dictated by the collective effort of eleven players. Yet, analysts of the game will present cricket from a microcosmic view, wherein amid the overall picture, minute individual battles play an influential role in determining the outcome of a match.
When India will take on Pakistan for their first ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 clash on Sunday, 23 October, at a packed-to-the-brim Melbourne Cricket Ground, interest will be high on these individual player battles, as the outcomes of these battles will ultimately decide the match’s result.
In this article, we will look at the five key player battles to look out for during the India vs Pakistan clash in the upcoming T20 World Cup:
1. Rohit Sharma vs Shaheen Afridi
Around a year ago, on 24 October 2021, India and Pakistan crossed swords in yet another T20 World Cup fixture. The scenario back then was similar to what it will be on this Sunday, as both teams were playing their first fixture in the competition.
The game started with a couple of dot balls, before KL Rahul took a single to bring Rohit Sharma on strike. Then the vice-captain of the team, expectations were high from Sharma, as he would take the baton of the T20I team from Virat Kohli right after the completion of the tournament.
But the very first delivery he faced was what cricket commentators and writers call ‘peach’ – an unplayable yorker on the middle stump, having sheer pace coupled with a tinge of inswing movement. Before he could bat an eyelid, the ball struck Sharma’s pads, trapping him leg before wicket.
After a year, the battle will resume once again. By now, the Indian skipper knows well what to expect from the fiery left-arm speedster from Pakistan, but statistics might prevent the Indian fanbase from being too optimistic.
Rohit Sharma has an average of 27.1 against left-arm pacers and medium-pacers, as compared to his average of 31.9 against right-arm seam bowlers. His strike rate against the former category of bowlers is also 14.5 lower than the strike rate against the latter category. Understandably, Pakistan skipper Babar Azam would have his most prized asset, Afridi going against the leader of the Indian team.
2. Virat Kohli vs Shadab Khan
In the same fixture where Afridi dismissed Sharma for a duck, India managed to somehow score 151 runs, courtesy of a resilient knock of 57 runs from Virat Kohli.
Unlike his compatriots, the 33-year-old looked fairly comfortable against most of the Pakistani bowlers, with Shadab Khan being the only exception.
He faced seven of the leg-spinner’s deliveries, and could only score six runs. Kohli and Shadab met again in the two Asia Cup 2022 fixtures earlier this year, but despite looking in fine rhythm against others, the former Indian skipper could only score 21 runs in 17 deliveries across those couple of matches.
Kohli’s numbers against Shadab are unimpressive, but it does not necessarily imply the Pakistani leggie has discovered kryptonite to use against him. Rather, the batter’s overall numbers against leg-spinners are pretty run-of-the-mill for a cricketer who otherwise is among the best of his epoch, if not the absolute best.
The Indian number three boasts a career T20I average of 50.84 and a strike rate of 138.09 – a combination every aspiring batter would dream to possess. Yet, his average drops down to 37.7 against the leggies, while his strike rate takes a massive dip – coming down to 118.9.
With the considerable difference in numbers, it will not be surprising one bit if Azam brings on Shadab to the attack whenever Kohli comes to bat.
3. Suryakumar Yadav vs Mohammad Nawaz
If form is the number one parameter for judging a player, Suryakumar Yadav is the currently best batter in this format. Since his T20I debut, no batter has been able to register a higher BASRA (batting average + strike rate aggregate) than the 32-year-old.
Having started his international career by dispatching one of the fiercest pacers, Jofra Archer, into the stands, Yadav has been consistently making light work of renowned bowlers, making T20I batting look incredibly easy.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Nawaz is a utility cricket – he might not be among the most renowned T20I bowlers, yet in the Asia Cup 2022, he dominated the battle against the Indian number four.
Across two matches, Nawaz conceded only 10 deliveries in the nine deliveries he bowled to Yadav, while also dismissing him once.
4. Babar Azam vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Babar Azam is ranked third on ICC’s list of best T20I batters in men’s cricket currently, and there is a very good reason for it. Much has been said about his strike rate, but he makes up for it with an average of 43.66.
The 28-year-old has a pretty distinctive approach – in an era where almost every team is trying to play aggressive cricket from the first delivery, Azam is a tad anachronistic in this regard – preferring to take his time before accelerating.
From India’s perspective, however, it will provide Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the ideal opportunity of using the run-rate pressure to dismiss the Pakistani skipper before he gets his eye in.
The veteran pacer had gotten the better of Azam in an Asia Cup game a couple of months ago.
5. Asif Ali vs Yuzvendra Chahal
Statistics don’t do justice to Asif Ali’s efficacy. The batter, who claims to hit 100-150 sixes daily during practice, usually plays cameos which might not be marked by big scores, but it certainly causes a spike in Pakistan’s run rate.
An ‘on song’ Asif Ali could mean curtain for many teams, and prevent such an occurrence, India will be relying on their spinners, especially Yuzvendra Chahal. The 31-year-old Pakistani batter has a T20I strike rate of 134.90, but it drops down to 94.8 whenever he is up against leg-spinners. Chahal has previously dismissed Ali, and would look to replicate it this Sunday.
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