It was mother nature’s interference in the 1992 ODI World Cup group stage which gave Pakistan a push into the semi-finals, but on Sunday (today) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), rain may play a spoilsport as skipper Babar Azam and co play for the coveted 2022 T20WC trophy.
Pakistan’s campaign in this year’s World Cup saw a turbulent start as they lost both their opening matches in last-over thrillers, first against India and then an upset at the hands of minnows Zimbabwe.
However, the Men in Green staged a strong comeback to trounce The Netherlands, then South Africa and lastly Bangladesh in the Super 12s to bag six points.
The Netherlands provided a helping hand as they beat South Africa to assist Pakistan in moving towards the last-four stage. However, The Netherlands also had their own agenda in mind as finishing in the top four during the Super 12 stage helped them directly qualify for the 2024 T20 World Cup.
Rain came down at the MCG to thwart South Africa’s run when they had to share a point with Zimbabwe in the Super 12, hence giving Pakistan an advantage when it came to the business end of the Super 12s.
England’s campaign was also rocky as a defeat against Ireland on the Duckworth-Lewis (DLS) method, because of the rain-shortened match, had pushed them to the brink. Howeve, their star players peaked at the right time to guide them through to the semi-finals, where they eventually humbled India by 10 wickets to enter the final match against Pakistan.
Come Sunday, the two teams will give their all for a chance to become the second team after West Indies to lift the T20 World Cup trophy twice, but only if strongly predicted showers allow them to complete the match.
Although the International Cricket Council (ICC) has a reserve day in place, Monday, for the showdown, but a start-stop final will not be good for a tournament, which has already presented cricket fans with nail-biting thrillers throughout the past month or so.
To make matters worse, if 10-overs-a-side are not possible between the two finalists even with two days in hand, then, undesirably by all, the trophy will be shared between Pakistan and England.
But many say that Melbourne’s weather is as unpredictable as the Pakistan cricket team.
There was a 100% chance of heavy showers when Pakistan had to play India on October 23 at the same venue, but as it turned out, the sun shone with all its glory throughout the day.
Nature’s interference aside, it will not be an easy contest for any of the teams as both came through a similar “one minute down, second minute up” form.
England’s batting has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with, while Pakistan’s in-form pacers and conniving spinners have not allowed any batting line-up off the hook.
In contrast, Pakistan’s batting stars, captain Babar and keeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan just started firing when New Zealand asked them to chase in the semi-final.
England’s bowling delivered a knock-out blow to India before being pummeled throughout the Super 12s.
There is a high chance that Pakistan and England will take the match till the last over and no one team will be able to steamroll the other on Sunday. Nerves, batting, bowling and fielding — all of these are controllable things.
However, whoever masters the art of winning, losing and regaining momentum with continuous rain interruptions will come out on top in the epic final.
Thirty years after Imran Khan’s Pakistan claimed the 1992 World Cup, Babar’s team may feel it is their destiny to deliver the trophy. “Of course the similarities are [there],” Babar told reporters of the 1992 final. “But we will try to win the trophy as it is an honour for me to lead this team, especially in this big ground,” he added.
England, the reigning 50-overs world champions, are looking to win a second global T20 title after their 2010 triumph and to build on the legacy of former captain Eoin Morgan, who transformed the team into a white-ball juggernaut.
New skipper Jos Buttler had big shoes to fill following Morgan’s retirement but has led from the front with rehabilitated opener Alex Hales.
Opening partnerships were decisive in the semi-finals, with Buttler and Hales routing India with a 170-run stand the night after Babar and Rizwan set up victory over New Zealand with a 105-run stand.
Both teams’ bowlers will be under pressure to strike early, lest the game quickly get away from them.
“Utilising the powerplay to grab as many wickets will be essential for the match,” said Babar.
There are few secrets between the teams, with Pakistan edged 4-3 by England in a T20 series at home.
They also played a rain-affected World Cup warm-up in Brisbane, which England won by six wickets.
Neither have had success in this tournament at the MCG, though, with Pakistan losing a Super 12 thriller to arch-rivals India and England having their sole blemish against Ireland in a rain-hit upset. “Obviously the Ireland match is a big disappointment for us as a team throughout this tournament, but certainly feels a long time ago now,” said Buttler.
“I think we’ve seen a reaction to that game in the rest of the cricket we’ve played so far,” he added.
Pakistan are likely to be unchanged but England could opt to bring back express paceman Mark Wood and number three batsman Dawid Malan if the pair are fit.
The final has been billed as a battle between Pakistan’s vaunted pace attack and England’s top order, but both sides boast other weapons.
England’s Sam Curran has been a fearless death bowler while legspinner Adil Rashid proved an unlikely hero against India.
Pakistan all-rounder Shadab Khan has captured 10 wickets at the tournament and their maligned middle order carried the team while Babar and Rizwan struggled.
The crowd will be dominated by an army of green-clad Pakistan fans but it may have little impact on England, who delighted in silencing the massive crowd of India supporters at Adelaide Oval.
(With input from Reuters)