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NEW YORK CITY: Whenever the fixtures for any International Cricket Council men’s global tournament are published it is the one between India and Pakistan that is the most eagerly anticipated.

It guarantees a packed house, millions more watching on TV and hand-held devices. It is also an opportunity for both sets of players to become heroes or villains. This was the case in the first ever men’s T20 Cup Final between Pakistan and India in Johannesburg in 2007. Chasing 158 to win, Pakistan needed 13 runs from the last over with one wicket remaining. Misbah ul Haq narrowed this down to six runs from four balls only to infamously choose to deploy a scoop shot, which led to his downfall and India becoming champions.

Following this victory the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced that a franchise-based Twenty20 competition, known as the Indian Premier League, would begin in 2008. As we now know, it has changed the landscape of cricket and paved the way for India’s current dominance in world cricket. However, India’s status as the most powerful nation in the world game has not translated into winning regular international trophies. There have been several near misses, most recently in the ODI World Cup Final in November 2023 against Australia.

In T20I cricket, India has failed to win the World Cup since 2007, reaching the final in 2014 only to be beaten by Sri Lanka. Pakistan won the 2009 final, beating England, to whom they lost in the 2022 final. In terms of Indian and Pakistani rivalry, India has enjoyed the upper hand, winning six of the seven occasions where the two countries have gone toe-to-toe in T20I World Cup matches. Pakistan’s sole success was a thumping ten-wicket victory in the group stage of the 2021 World Cup, while the first meeting in 2007, prior to the final, ended as a tie.

On current form, the match between the two teams at the temporarily erected Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York is likely to see Indian success continue. However, what has gone before can sometimes be irrelevant and most pertinent may be who can handle their nerves on the day. Nevertheless, it is difficult to envisage Pakistan’s success as the team has been affected by a series of adverse issues.

Chaos has dominated Pakistan on and the off the field since the first half of the Asia Cup in September 2023. The captaincy has passed from Babar Azam to Shaheen Shah Afridi and then back to Babar, which has had a massive impact on team dynamics and morale. The coaching staff has been changed several times from Mickey Arthur to Mohammad Hafeez, and now a combination of Azhar Mahmood and Gary Kirsten.

None of this uncertainty aids player preparation, although most involved in Pakistan cricket are accustomed to off-field dramas ruining any chance of success on the pitch. It takes a special individual and team to block out the noise and focus on winning matches. Disappointingly, this group of Pakistan players has largely failed to do that, both as individuals and as a squad.

Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi are the standout world-class talents. Many of the other players have not achieved their full potential, some of them going backwards since the Asia Cup. If Pakistan are to have any chance in the competition, Shaheen needs the pace support of Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.

There is a big question mark around the spin attack, with Shadab’s bowling a serious concern. There is always strong opinion around selection and any controversy around Pakistan cricket, but one current consensus is the outdated nature of Pakistan’s style of play. The team lacks power-hitters and wicket-taking spin, two key pieces in any successful T20 team’s jigsaw puzzle.

In comparison, Indian are a well-rounded outfit, packed with experience, and its players come into the tournament off the back of another successful IPL. They look full of different options and match sharpness, although how they balance the team and get players in the correct positions will be a challenge. However, this is not a bad place to be.

Virat Kohli was at his fiery best during the IPL, topping the batting charts with 741 runs at an average of 61.75 but, more significantly, a strike rate of 154.69. He will be supported in the batting department by India’s captain Rohit Sharma and the next generation of Indian stars in Yashashvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant, with strike rates in excess of 150.

Then there is the hugely exciting talent of Shivam Dube, who is reminiscent of Yuvraj Singh and is my one-to- watch. Dube could have fun with the small boundaries and slow pitches, while his power game could become the X-factor that his country needs to lift the trophy.

India has a wealth of spinners in its squad, which gives Rohit plenty of options in the field. Added to this is the pace and experience of Jasprit Bumrah, who will be eager to make an impression after missing the 2022 tournament.

Form and ability point to Indian success. The team easily saw off Ireland by eight wickets in its first match, while Pakistan were shocked by the US in one of the sport’s biggest shocks. But no Pakistan cricket team should ever be written off. They can be at their scintillating best when nothing is expected from them. Yet, this just feels a step too far this time. The conditions in New York are likely to play a big role too. The drop in pitch and the outfield have come under significant criticism. The pitch displayed signs of uneven bounce, while the outfield was slow. The India v Pakistan match will be the fifth to be played at the ground, which gives both teams an opportunity to plan accordingly.

No one could have predicted how much that 2007 win for India over Pakistan would change the face of world cricket. The ICC and the international game will be hoping a little bit of that Johannesburg magic can resurface in New York City.

Cricket has yearned to crack America for decades and, after the US’s success in the opening match of the tournament, Sunday’s showdown could go a long way to opening up that potentially lucrative market. If it does, the temporary stands and drop-in pitch at the Nassau may become more of a permanent reminder of this T20 World Cup. Time will tell.

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