India, Pakistan Size Up in the Backdrop of T20 World Cup
There was a lot riding for India in their first match of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022 in Australia
The pressure is telling even on the powerhouse players and teams, early into the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. This is evident in how match winners Virat Kohli and Marcus Stoinis reacted in the high intensity clashes. While India had the backdrop of another off field tussle with Pakistan over bilateral ties, Australia were forced to recover after losing face to their Trans Tasmanian rivals.
There was a lot riding for India in their first match of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022 in Australia. And the stage was set not only by the fact that India had fared poorly against Pakistan in their last encounter in the same tournament but also, with another backstage battle that spilled over onto the field.
Once again boardroom battles dominated the India versus Pakistan showdown in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. Upon being reinstated as the BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, set the cat amongst the pigeons as far as the Pakistan cricket fraternity was concerned.
Only a couple of days before the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) AGM (Annual General Meeting), rumours floated that India might break their self-imposed decision and tour Pakistan in 2023. For a moment, forgotten from memory was the fact that on the eve of their match, New Zealand pulled out of the tour, and England refused to tour thereafter only recently. In focus was the saga of whether Sourav Ganguly had been deliberately sidelined and Roger Binny sidled in.
What made this situation somewhat controversial was that Shah is also the head of the ACC (the Asian Cricket Council) and it in unclear whether he spoke in his capacity as a high ranking BCCI official, on behalf of the government of India or as the ACC president when he stated unequivocally on the day of the AGM that India would in fact not tour Pakistan contrary to speculation.
The sting was back in the neighbour's backyard with calls from Pakistan's equally passionate cricket contingency to retaliate to the humiliation, and boycott their forthcoming Super 12 clash against India on Sunday. Some even asked Pakistan not to go to India next year, when the fifty overs a side ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 would be staged.
Could the cricket world, already a small community of competitive teams, afford to lose Pakistan in an ICC flagship event? Few asked this question as many also reminded Pakistan that the Pakistan Cricket Board chief and former player and captain, Rameez Raja, had spoken out last year about the PCB's barren coffers and the reliance on India for Pakistan cricket to stay afloat.
Barbs were traded before the match but not necessarily because of it. Who needed whom the most and who would ignore whom? The debates continued late into the night as even Anurag Thakur, the sports minister, weighed in, saying India's contribution on the world cricket stage could not be ignored.
The PCB reminded the ICC and the world at large the reason why the ACC was constituted in the first place and threatened that there could be a deep divide in the cricket world following India's earth shaking decision which in fact had been the status quo for over a decade now, which the PCB claimed was not discussed by Shah at the ACC but made unilaterally in a capacity yet to be clarified.
India have not toured Pakistan since the 2008 November terror attacks in Mumbai and although they have played against each other in multi team tournaments such as the World Cup and more recently the Asia Cup, any clash between the two neighbours never fails to draw the greatest number of audiences around the world, outside of and sometimes even more than the major matches such as the semi finals and finals.
Should cricket whet the appetite of the world by fuelling this divide or will bridging this gap by hosting the Asia Cup in neutral venues such as the UAE which has been done in the past keep the two teams in context and more importantly, cricket in the game?
That debate was not settled, though it took a pugnacious Virat Kohli, with a more fearless Hardik Pandya punching over his weight, to not only overcome personal slight but also, tremendous pressure to get India just past the finish line in a nail biting finish to the end which at one point, even the former Indian captain admitted did not seem possible.
If Kohli's reaction of shock and emotion was something to witness, that even the hosts were feeling the heat under the collar even in cooler climes, showed in the manner in which another matchwinner, Marcus Stoinis, keep reacting vocally and with fistful punches in the air as he took Australia past a tricky tightrope against Sri Lanka.
Australia Overcome Host Nation Shocker
That Australia had their heart in their mouth in only their second match of the tournament was evident in the way they showed up against Sri Lanka against whom they would have otherwise fancied their chances not only because they were playing at home but also, because they are after all the defending champions of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. But the nerves were amongst the spectators and certainly in the dressing room even as the skipper, Aaron Finch, tried to appear dour.
What has made this tournament exciting so early was that while recent Asia Cup champions Sri Lanka had to overcome the embarrassment of losing to Namibia in the qualifiers, they became intense opponents for the hosts who showed signs of jitters in only their second match of the Super 12's.
The reason? Australia had to now keep an eye not only on winning their remaining matches but also, on the net run rate which is not an easy thing to do and quite pointless, as Mitchell Starc pointed out, within wins under their belt. Could they be looking at two columns simultaneously on the points table?
What got the hosts and reigning champions into this muddle? Australia started off the big league encounters with a contest against their fierce Trans Tasmanian rivals and neighbours, New Zealand.
New Zealand, always known to punch above their weight when it comes to World Cups, lived up to their promise every inch of the way. They showed up in traditional colours in their livery in vintage black and grey but their victory was colourful as it was passionate, handing the fancied champions a stunning 89 run defeat on the big Saturday with blazing match winning performances that was always going to give the hosts a run for their money. Not the way the champions would have wanted to get their defence under way.
Although each team would play five matches, the fact that Australia lost by so many runs meant Australia had to focus not only on getting runs on board at a faster clip but also, more importantly, score wins first. Even Sri Lanka were beginning to make the hosts quake in their boots as the body language of the Australians told. What a way to come from the dominant and even bullying Australians of the 90's!
Sri Lanka dropped a few catches in the outfield, which might be something they will look back on because it certainly was not easy on Australia chasing a target of just over 150 runs. It might have looked bigger still, had Australia lost a couple more wickets with their run rate not rollicking in the first ten overs.
It took a fair bit of grit and gumption from the big hitting Marcus Stoinis and even the fact that he fairly punched the air and grunted every time he hit one out of the park told of the relief of pressure that was telling on the broader Australian shoulders.
Even when Australia needed 35 runs from less than 20 balls, it was Stoinis racing to a half century and then vehemently pointing to the dressing room as if to reiterate the need for self-belief said it all. It certainly made it interesting for the spectators not only in the stadium but a gripping match to watch for audiences around the world in what was a rather late night match Australian time.
Pakistan might see some daylight between bat and ball after all. After losing in rather heartbreaking fashion to India in their first match of the tournament, they would have felt somewhat relieved to see what went down between South Africa and Zimbabwe in the same group in what is being labelled as a farce of a match. Could the match have been rescheduled or reduced even further in terms of overs and should the game come up with a better way to award points? Certainly talking points.
South Africa and Zimbabwe were left with a lengthy rain delay and then a match that could have easily been a five overs a side and even then struggled to complete the match given how the weather was closing in. South Africa and Quinton de Kock in particular were thundering to Zimbabwe's limited target and looked good for a first win.
But once again rain intervened, shutting down any further chance of progress, narrowly denying South Africa the opportunity to score the valuable two points to set them up on the table alongside India and more importantly, giving them some confidence under their belt.
Instead doubts would have been planted as words like jinx and farce began to do the rounds faster than wildfire. Both teams were forced to share a point each which means it could well come down to the wire and it might cost South Africa another chance at the World Cup, to add to their already growing injury woes.
The nation that began their reentry into the international fold with such exhilaration, pride and competitiveness at the 1992 World Cup in Australia has struggled to keep their head above waters in recent years over sliding performances and corruption wranglings in the board. With the rain once again showing up as it did ominously in the semi final of that 1992 edition to make the run chase impossible on that occasion, South Africa's fans and cricket fraternity are counting prayers on one hand and jinxes on the other.
Pakistan though would not mind one team being slightly incapacitated by this uncanny scenario. After the lung opener that might have taken away their breath and some of their chutzpah, they will need everything they can get to get back in the game. And it is not even one week into the World Cup which seems rather open at this point with no clear winner in sight though teams like India have clearly thrown their hat into the ring after the heart stopper with Australia slowly and cautiously finding their feet!