NEW YORK: Brace yourself. The greatest rivalry in world cricket is all set to resume on Sunday, this time on an unfamiliar territory for the first time — the United States.

When Rohit Sharma-led India face Babar Azam and his men in their Group A match at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, tens of millions of fans in South Asia will be glued to TV sets while the luckiest ones will be occupying each and every seat at the 34,000-capacity venue which was built earlier this year. No surprises the tickets for the high-profile encounter were sold out months ago.

While India after brushing aside Ireland by eight wickets in the group opener at the same venue must be feeling pumped up for the high-voltage clash, Pakistan who in their first match were jolted by the US, 18th on ICC team rankings, in a Super Over at Dallas need to drastically raise their game in order to test a strong-looking India, the world’s top-ranked T20 team.

A loss in today’s match will significantly diminish Pakis­tan’s chances to qualify for the Super Eight stage of the 20-nation spectacle.

Taking a glance at the head-to-head T20 record between the arch-rivals, India hold a clear advantage with nine victories, including a Super Over win, in 12 games. The stats in T20 World Cups are even more lop-sided with Pakistan — currently sixth in ICC T20 team rankings — having a solitary triumph in seven games. That lone victory — by 10 wickets — for the green-shirts came in the 2021 World Cup group stage at Dubai.

However, Gary Kirsten, the recently-appointed white ball head coach of Pakistan, remains optimistic.

“The Pakistan players are talented. They are focused for tomorrow’s game and will make all-out efforts to give their best against India. We have forgotten the result of the first match [against the US],” South African Kirsten said while addressing a pre-match news conference here at the Cantiague Park on Saturday.

The former Test opener, who joined the Pakistan squad a month ago, said that the team would play according to a plan.

“I am expecting a favourable result. This match is going to be a big one, as both India and Pakistan are taking on each other for the first time in the US, which is something big,” the coach underlined and added that the pitches in the US generally supported bowlers.

Kirsten emphasised, “T20 is a totally different ball game. Situation in these matches changes very quickly as we witnessed in our game against the US in Dallas.”

To a query, he said that all-rounder Imad Wasim had become fully fit and was available to play against India. Imad missed the US match due to a side strain.

The coach maintained that fielding also played an important role for a team to get desired results.

Kirsten said that the playing eleven was yet to be finalised.

“All [the] bases for the match should be covered,” the coach said hinting that Pakistan will go into today’s match with a combination of fast and spin bowlers.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan cricketers attended a thorough net practice session at the Cantiague Park.

ROHIT SEES IT ‘BALL BY BALL’

Earlier on Saturday, Rohit said playing good cricket is the key to success, adding his side will take Sunday’s match ball by ball and over by over.

“We want to kneel them [Pakistan] down over by over,” the skipper said while talking to reporters at his pre-match presser after attending a net practice session at Cantiague Park, which is a few miles away from the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium.

“We are not going to focus on [the entire] session, rather we will concentrate on every ball and every over,” the prolific 37-year-old opener with a rich experience of 152 T20 Internationals under his belt said.

“A T20 changes after every over, so we have to win every over in order to win the match. I am confident about [getting] a good result tomorrow.”

Responding to a query about the track in New York, Rohit said that he had no clear idea about the drop-in pitches.

“[The] curators are also confused about the Nassau County pitches, so imagine what our ideas would be,” Rohit said and added that regardless of the pitch behaviour his team will play in according to their plan.

In reply to question about master batter Virat Kohli who boasts an excellent average of 51.11 in 118 T20 Internationals, the skipper said that he was not relying on one or two players.

“No doubt Virat is a key performer and player of big matches. But everyone will have to chip in, the responsibility to exhibit good cricket lies on everyone to enable the team to secure two points,” the right-handed Rohit said.

The Indian captain insisted that defeats at the hands of Pakistan in the 2022 T20 Asia Cup and the 2021 World Cup put no pressure on his team and added he took decisions according to the prevailing situation.

When asked about his aggressive batting approach, Rohit said that he wanted to play with the right balance and at the same time put opponent bowlers under pressure.

“We are playing with eight batters so we look to bat aggressively to get runs quickly,” he said.

Talking about Pakistan’s defeat at the hand of the US, the Indian skipper said in T20 format anything can happen.

“In the last T20 World Cup [2022], Zimbabwe defeated Pakistan, but they [Pakistan] made a resounding comeback and played the final,” Rohit recalled.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2024

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