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T20 World Cup: Rain threat looms as Pakistan eye England scalp in final

Khalid Hussain
Sunday, Nov 13, 2022

KARACHI: Thirty years ago, Pakistan swam against the tide to conquer a rampaging England side and win their first World Cup title in style at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Can they do it again at the MCG on Sunday (today)?

Babar Azam and his men would need to overcome several odds in their bid to win Pakistan’s first world title since 2009 when Younis Khan led them to a stunning title-winning triumph in the T20 World Cup in England.

And perhaps the biggest odd on Sunday, even bigger than England’s fancied batting arsenal, would be the wet weather in Melbourne. It rained throughout the night in the Victorian capital and the forecast isn’t any better for Sunday either. And it only gets gloomier for Monday, the reserve day for the final.

In case there is a washout on both days, the trophy would be shared by the two teams.

Neither the two captains nor the hundreds of millions of cricket fans around the globe would want this exciting tournament to end on such a dismal note.

Weather permitting, the stage would be set for plenty of fireworks from both sides in the final.

From Pakistan’s perspective, the biggest danger would be the English top order, especially in the power-play overs. England skipper Jos Buttler and his opening partner Alex Hales showed why they are seen as the best in business with a potent display of power-hitting in a 10-wicket demolition of India in the semi-finals.

Babar Azam, Pakistan’s captain, admitted that England hold a key batting trump card but was quick to add that his team has the means to counter it.

“England is a competitive team, their (10-wicket) win to reach the finals against India was a proof of that,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.

“Our strategy is to stick to our plan and use our pace attack as our strength to win the final. Utilising the power-play to grab as many wickets will be essential for the match.”

With pace lynchpin Shaheen Shah Afridi back to his brilliant best and the trio of Haris Rauf, Nasim Shah and Mohammad Wasim Jr itching to bowl at an MCG wicket that is likely to offer plenty of bounce, Pakistan certainly are a team best placed to blunt England’s big guns at the top of the order with early wickets.

However, England’s batting strength is pretty spread out with even No 11 Adil Rashid carrying solid credentials with the bat.

That’s why a lot will also depend on how the likes of leggie Shadab Khan, one of the biggest success stories for Pakistan in this tournament, will fare with the ball especially in the middle overs.

While Pakistan can boast of perhaps the most potent bowling attack in the event, their batting is a different story. They will take the field for the final with four wins in a row but it’s their bowlers who have played key roles in their march into the final.

The good news is that Pakistan’s openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan ended their otherwise dismal run in the tournament with a match-winning partnership in an emphatic semi-final triumph against New Zealand.

The introduction of youngster Mohammad Haris has given a much-needed shot in the arm to Pakistan’s top order. Haris has scored 89 runs at No. 3 with a strike rate of 161.81 in this contest so far. His 28 from 11 against South Africa was one of the reasons behind Pakistan’s much-needed win.

Shan Masood might have struggled in finding the big hits but the left-hander has emerged as a vital cog with his ability to rotate the strike. Iftikhar Ahmed has not disappointed either. However, one man who can make the difference for Pakistan is Shadab, with his vastly-improved batting prowess.

England, meanwhile, would be pondering how to counter the threat posed by the Pakistani pacers in their bid to become the first team to simultaneously hold both the 50-over and 20-over World Cups.

Buttler conceded countering Pakistan’s pacers would be a tough challenge. “They have a fantastic team who have a very long history of producing excellent fast bowlers, and I see the team we are up against as no different,” he said. “That’s a huge part of why they are in the final, so we expect a really tough challenge.”

While Pakistan are expected to field an unchanged eleven, England would decide in the morning whether the duo of key pacer Mark Wood and batsman Dawid Malan are fit enough to play the final.

Both Malan and Wood were forced to miss the semi-final against India due to fitness problems and were replaced by Phil Salt and Chris Jordan.

The final would be a perfect contest between the bat and the ball. A battle between England’s near unstoppable batting against Pakistan’s deadly bowling attack. It promises to be a cracker of a contest unless it’s the weather having the last laugh.