T20 World Cup: India-Pak match holds key to bigger picture in the US

Men in blue enjoy a 6-1 head-to-head, but don’t write off the green shirts in this format

Rohit Sharma (left) with Pak skipper Babar Azam (courtesy: ICC)
Rohit Sharma (left) with Pak skipper Babar Azam (courtesy: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It could well be a make-or-break game for this edition of the T20 World Cup on the whole — on and off the field. While a full house for the India versus Pakistan group league game on Sunday at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York can open up a template for more such money spinners on neutral turf, a thrilling contest can also breathe more life into the proceedings.

Contrary to the early expectations that a crowd of around 34,000 would be present for the first-ever clash of the arch rivals at the Big Apple, there is now an apprehension that the opaqueness in the ticket policy — along with allegations of black marketing — may have put off a chunk of the middle-income south Asian community from the game. The general ticket price for the marquee game is $300, while premium ones range between $2,500 and $10,000, certainly beyond reach for many.

While India’s opening game against Ireland on Wednesday saw large swathes of empty seats at Nassau County, the scenario was not too different at the other two venues over the 10-odd matches so far. A far cry from the Super 12 clash in the 2022 edition of the World T20 in Melbourne, where a 90,000-plus crowd saw India riding on Virat Kohli’s brilliance to win a close match.

If the question mark about attendance is a worrying factor, so are the drop-in pitches at the venue, panned as sub-par by the cricketing community for the treacherous bounce and outfield, hindering the ball's journey to the ropes. Common wisdom says such turfs should have been laid and allowed to settle at least two to three months in advance — a practice which was not adhered to as the India-Ireland game was only the second T20I being played there.

While such factors don’t necessarily add up to the right backdrop for yet another India-Pakistan clash at a World Cup, one hazards a prediction at his or her own peril. A head-to-head in World T20 shows the men in blue enjoying a 6-1 record, but the margin of error in this format is slender, and their last clash could have headed either way but for Kohli and Hardik Pandya pulling India out of the woods in a tricky chase.

In the 2021 edition in Dubai, India were in for a rude shock as Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan made light of a total of 151 as Pakistan bucked the trend with a 10-wicket victory. The green shirts may have been pilloried over the last two days after opening their campaign with an embarrassing Super Over loss against co-hosts US but then, who knows if it’s the proverbial kick in the backside they need in time for the India game.

Interestingly, records show that Pakistan actually finished better than India in the past two T20 World Cups. In the 2021 edition, while the Kohli-led India were shown the door in the group stage, their rivals played some exhilarating cricket until they were pipped by eventual champions Australia in the semi-final. The 2022 edition in Australia, meanwhile, had Pakistan finishing as runners-up while India were humbled by England in the semis.

While India may have the edge on paper, it would be worth the wait to see who has the last laugh!

India vs Pakistan: World T20 match-ups

2007 group stage: The two team’s first encounter in T20 World Cup history came in the group stages and it was a memorable one at Kingsmead in Durban, South Africa. Put in to bat, India were restricted to 141/9, courtesy Mohammad Asif’s canny spell of 4-1-18-4. Robin Uthappa top scored with a 39-ball 50 while M.S. Dhoni added 33 off 31. Misbah-ul-Haq then spearheaded Pakistan’s innings with a 35-ball 53 as they levelled scores in their allotted 20 overs, leading to the second-ever tied match in T20I history. India prevailed 3-0 in an edge-of-the-seat bowl-out to win.

2007 final: India and Pakistan went on to meet in the final at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg. In what was to be a monumental game in the T20 landscape, India were crowned the inaugural T20 World Cup winners after beating Pakistan by five runs in a nail-biting finish. Opting to bat, India were buoyed by Gautam Gambhir’s 54-ball 75 and Rohit Sharma’s 16-ball 30 to post 157/5. Man of the final Irfan Pathan finished with figures of 4-0-16-3 to leave the opponents five runs short.

2012: Lakshmipathy Balaji’s three-for and Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuvraj Singh’s two wickets each restricted Pakistan to a total of 128. Virat Kohli was in imperious form as he registered an unbeaten 78 off 61. Interestingly, Kohli also bowled three overs of his seam-up stuff, conceding 21 runs to pick up a wicket.

2014: The Super 10 encounter in 2014 also produced a favourable result for India. Pakistan posted 130 at Mirpur, Bangladesh, with Umar Akmal top scoring with 33 (30). Leg spinner Amit Mishra returned 2/22 in his four overs while Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, and Ravindra Jadeja returned a wicket apiece. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan gave their team a good start by scoring 24 and 30, respectively as Kohli (36 not out) and Suresh Raina (35 not out) sealed the win in 18.3 overs.

2016: In what turned out to be an anti-climax of sorts, Pakistan were restricted to a total of 118 at the Eden Gardens. Man of the match Kohli’s innings of 55 off 37 helped India take the match home in just 15.5 overs.

2021: India put in 151 with the help of skipper Kohli’s 57 (49) and Rishabh Pant’s 39 (30) in Dubai as the tournament was moved to the UAE during the Covid pandemic. Shaheen Shah Afridi played a massive part in restricting India with a three-wicket haul. Pakistan thrashed India by chasing down the target in 17.5 overs without the loss of any wickets. Mohammad Rizwan’s 79 off 55 and skipper Babar Azam’s 68 off 52 were enough to seal the win for their first-ever win over India in the event.

2022: In the last edition Down Under, India avenged their previous year’s defeat to turn the tables. Pakistan rode on fifties by Shan Masood and Iftikhar Ahmed to pile up 159 in the Group 2 match of Super 12 at Melbourne. Kohli’s 82 off 53 balls, assisted by Hardik’s 40 off 37, led India to secure a close win.

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