T20 World Cup: India and Pakistan fight for supremacy in familiar surroundings

Virat Kohli's players are accustomed to the conditions, while Babar Azam's team have a good record in the UAE

Seeing as their major domestic league finished in Dubai two days before this competition started, India might well claim to have home advantage at the T20 World Cup.

They are the official hosts – albeit in exile in the UAE – and have had one-and-a-half seasons of the Indian Premier League on these shores in the past two years.

And yet, when they start their Super 12 campaign at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday, they will be facing up to a side who know the place even better than they do.

Pakistan and India might be relative strangers to each other, kept apart in bilateral competition by issues beyond cricket.

But each will be settling into familiar surroundings when they play their customary World Cup group fixture in Dubai.

One thing is for sure: each will have fervent support beyond the boundary rope. This fixture prompted a logjam when tickets went on sale for Dubai matches ahead of the tournament.

Something that is less certain is how conditions will be for play. Even though Pakistan have played in Dubai in all but one year – 2020 – since the ground opened in 2008, they might yet be surprised by the characteristics of the wicket.

There was a month’s worth of IPL traffic at the stadium, although it did not show given the fact Chennai Super Kings won the final after posting 192-3.

Virat Kohli, the India captain, reckons that game points to the fact the batsman might expect to prosper in the World Cup.

“Looking at the IPL finals, I can definitely say the quality of the pitches is going to be far better in the T20 World Cup,” Kohli said.

“Being an ICC tournament, we know that the standard of pitches has to be maintained to certain degree, which is consistent across all venues.

“To protect the pitches for a tournament like the World Cup, there had to be some kind of compromise in terms of the playing conditions of the IPL.

“We all understood that. The wicket for the final was very, very good.”

Toby Lumsden, the curator in Dubai, suggested similar.

“What we are trying to do for the World Cup is make [the pitches] conducive to T20 cricket,” Lumsden said.

“We want to try to create as much bounce and pace as possible, and little turn.

“With that, we manipulate our watering and rolling to produce a conducive T20 match for bat and ball.

“It is a little bit harder as we have just had a month of IPL. But knowing the base is hard, we can still produce a good pitch for the World Cup T20 games.”

Babar Azam, Pakistan’s captain, said his side’s familiarity with the conditions has helped engender a feeling of relaxation ahead of such a huge fixture.

“It is about staying relaxed,” said Babar, who has a 100 per cent winning record in the 11 T20 internationals he has played in the UAE.

“It is about playing well on the day. We have played a lot of cricket here, we know the conditions and we know how to go about it.”

Both captains have repeatedly talked down the magnitude of a meeting with their greatest rivals.

“For me, it has never been different to any other game of cricket we play,” Kohli said.

“Yes, the atmosphere in the stadium is different. But our mindset is not different, and our approach to the game is certainly not different.”

India come into the game having won each of their official warm up matches convincingly.

Pakistan looked set to record a similarly uplifting lead in, before they gave up 23 off their last over to lose against South Africa in Abu Dhabi.

Babar remains confident, though. “It is a World Cup, you cannot take any game lightly,” he said.

“India-Pakistan matches are always full of intensity. You cannot be relaxed at any point.

“You have to do well in all three basics of the game - batting, bowling, and fielding.

“It is not like our bowling is under pressure. We tried different things in the warm-up games. I have full confidence in my team.”

Updated: October 23rd 2021, 4:27 PM
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