Cricket

Reprise Of Arch-Rivalries At T20 World Cup: India, Australia Victorious Again

The India vs Pakistan and Australia vs England rivalries transcend cricket and sport, and have a rich legacy to behold. Both face-offs played out in the group stage of ICC T20 World Cup 2024, and ended in contrasting outcomes

Jasprit Bumrah clean bowls Mohammad Rizwan, India vs Pakistan, ICC T20 World Cup 2024, New York, AP photo
Mohammad Rizwan (left) fell victim to Jasprit Bumrah's (centre) brilliance during the India vs Pakistan, ICC T20 World Cup 2024 match in New York. Photo: AP/Eduardo Munoz
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Two of the greatest rivalries in the world of cricket played out over the last weekend in the ICC T20 World Cup, at stadiums nearly 3,500 miles apart. India took on arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium on Long Island in New York, while Australia played England the day before, at the 153-year-old Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Full Coverage | More Cricket News)

The cricketing rivalry between these nations dates back over generations of cricketers who have played in the emotionally charged, high-pressure contests between them, down the years.

It all started when England played Australia for the first time in a ‘Test’ match 147 years ago at Melbourne in 1877, and subsequently, when India first took on Pakistan in a Test match in 1952 , a few years after the two countries achieved independence.

And because of the history that these two sets of nations share with each other, their matches often become larger than just sporting contests, with many other connotations hidden just below the surface. Many sports analysts consider these games to be the most intense form of all sporting contests involving two nations.

And rightly so.

Typically however, Australia and India have dominated these exchanges in recent times, and that trend continued at the two T20 World Cup games as well. India are currently way ahead of Pakistan in the head-to-head statistics of contests won at ICC World Cups, but England and Australia are on level terms as far as T20 competitions go, having won 11 each of their 24 games against each other, with two no results.

And while Australia beat defending champions England comfortably by 36 runs at Barbados, the India–Pakistan game turned out to be a cliff-hanger, with Pakistan needing 18 off the last over, and eventually falling six runs short.

Indian players celebrate after their win over Pakistan in their ICC T20 World Cup 2024 clash at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York. Photo: AP
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This was a low-scoring contest that witnessed the first-ever instance of India winning a T20I game despite being bowled out in the 19th over, batting first.

India are now 7-1 up against Pakistan in T20 World Cups, having lost to them only once in the 2021 edition at Dubai. And to rub it in, it was the joint-lowest score ever defended successfully by a team in a T20 World Cup, Sri Lanka having done so once earlier, against New Zealand in the 2014 tournament.

Bumrah & Co Show The Way

At the halfway mark in the chase, India looked dead and buried, with Pakistan cruising along at 50 for 1, chasing 119. But this was the moment when the bowlers led by the superlative Jasprit Bumrah started to make things happen, supported by some great catching behind the stumps and in the slips. And the Pakistan batting suddenly crumbled under the pressure of some accurate bowling and a couple of dodgy bounces off the wicket. The entire bowling unit stepped up, inspired by Bumrah’s brilliance and delivered what must surely rank as one of India’s greatest bowling performances to get their team out of jail, so to say.

As current Pakistan coach Gary Kirsten who had coached India to the 2011 ODI World Cup triumph was to say later, “It was also a fairly slow outfield, so it was never going to be a big total. I would have said 140 would have been a really good score on that pitch. So, (when) India did not get that, I thought we had the game. We knew it was going to be tight but sometimes it is fun seeing games like that as well. It is not always about sixes and hitting, getting 230s and 240s. You can actually have a really entertaining game on a 120 chase. So, I do not think it is bad for the game.”

And it has been a fairly low-scoring tournament thus far.

Australia, on the other hand, delivered an ominously assured all-round performance against England at Barbados and their World Cup campaign seems to be nicely on track, with three wins from three games and a Super 8 berth confirmed. Australia are known for peaking towards the back end of ICC tournaments, a habit that has seen them take home a rich haul of silverware over the years, most notably the ODI World Cup in India when they came roaring back after having lost their first two games.

Head-Warner Blitzkrieg

In this game against England, openers Travis Head and David Warner smashed 70 off the first five overs after England opened with off spin at both ends. After a measured opening over by Moeen Ali which went for just six runs, it was mayhem as the next over from Will Jacks, somewhat surprisingly handed the new ball, went for 22, with the Aussie openers targeting the shorter square boundary on the leg side. The next over from that end bowled by Mark Wood went for another 22 in a blazing start reminiscent of the Indian Premier League, as Australia blitzed the England attack for 70 runs off the first 29 balls of the match.

Travis Head hits Will Jacks for a six during their Australia vs England, ICC T20 World Cup 2024 match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. Photo: AP
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And that momentum was enough to carry them past the 200 mark with some sustained hitting down the order after the openers had departed. It was the first time that any team had achieved that mark in this tournament.

Australia would be pleased with that.

When England batted, Jos Buttler and Phil Salt, fresh from their own IPL heroics, went toe to toe with the Australians and notched up an equally aggressive opening stand of 73 in eight overs. But because it was a shade slower than the Aussies, the England innings would always be up against a steadily climbing asking rate, once that partnership was broken.

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And like the Pakistanis, they fell short in the end.

Which leaves both Pakistan and England, the 2022 runners–up and champions respectively, without a win after their first two games in this edition of the T20 World Cup, and in danger of elimination at the group stage itself.

Pakistan, like Australia, have a knack of coming back from the dead in ICC World Cups, but this team has not yet looked the part and England too, have left themselves a mountain to climb, with every game from now on being a do-or-die affair.

For both teams.

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As for India, while the bowling unit has looked razor-sharp in helpful conditions, the batting has left a lot to be desired. With Virat Kohli departing early in both games, the top-order has looked fragile and at the halfway mark in the Pakistan game, there was a time when the win predictor showed only an 8 per cent probability of an Indian victory compared to 92 per cent for Pakistan.

That it did not happen quite that way in the end, is a tribute to the tenacity of Jasprit Bumrah and his band of brothers with the ball.

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Pant's Heartening Return

Equally heart-warming was Rishabh Pant’s successful return to international cricket, after a horrific car crash two years ago. A feat that is even more special because it has been attempted by many a talented but unfortunate international cricketer in the past, but rarely with any degree of success. The late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi being one of the few exceptions.

Which speaks volumes of the mental strength and fortitude of this young man.

And the crowd at the newly built Nassau County Cricket Stadium, which was such a sea of blue that day, painted by a congregation that boasted many celebrities including the Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, went home happy.

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Indian supporters celebrate the team's win over Pakistan in their T20 World Cup 2024 clash at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York. Photo: AP
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But not before their hearts had missed a few beats.

Cricket had finally arrived in the US, and a friend fondly recalls a much-cherished moment of pure joy on noticing Sachin Tendulkar in the next car on Long Island. Or the unexpected sight of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma strolling down a High Street in happy anonymity.

Moments that will be remembered for a long time to come.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author. The author is a veteran Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, who has played Ranji Trophy for Services.

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