After a topsy-turvy time in the Men's T20 World Cup in Australia, the final of the tournament has arrived. If the unpredictable weather of Melbourne permits a full match, then fans are in store for a blazing final between a confident England and solid Pakistan on Sunday, which is ironically a repeat of the settings of the 1992 ODI World Cup final clash.
With both teams on their quest to win just their second T20 World Cup title, the heavy rain predicted for the final showdown on Sunday as well as on Monday, the reserve day, the trophy could be shared between the two teams. Fans will be praying to the cricketing gods to conjure up miraculous circumstances for the match to be held, even if it is a 10-overs a side affair.
Both England and Pakistan, who featured here in the 50-over World Cup final 30 years ago, are entering the title clash with blazing wins in the semifinal. While captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan struck form in the seven-wicket victory over New Zealand, England's opening pair of skipper Jos Buttler and Alex Hales put out a muscular masterclass to secure a 10-wicket win over India.
Pakistan, the 2009 champions, are running on a winning fairy-tale in the tournament since being on the verge of early exit after losses to India and Zimbabwe. With Netherlands knocking out South Africa from the tournament, Pakistan got an unexpected lifeline to get into the semifinals and fulfilled it by defeating Bangladesh in a hat-trick of wins and edging New Zealand in semifinals.
Their comeback in the tournament was led by strong new-ball bowling, led by left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, while Mohammad Wasim Jr and Haris Rauf have supported him well. Their spin twins, leg-spinner Shadab Khan and left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz, have been extremely beneficial in stemming the run-flow in middle overs.
With the bat, Babar and Rizwan were back in form by sharing a 105-run stand and reaching their respective half-centuries. Youngster Mohammad Haris has been a breath of fresh air with his fearless hitting in the middle order while Shan Masood and Iftikhar Ahmed have been decent, apart from Shadab hitting the ball well with the bat.
England, the current ODI World Cup holders, are looking to win a second T20 World Cup trophy after winning the 2010 edition in West Indies. A win over Pakistan on Sunday will make them the first team in men's international cricket to hold two World Cups at the same time and continue their white-ball transformation story.
Buttler had huge shoes to fill as a captain after Eoin Morgan's retirement, but has admirably led England from the front. His unbroken 170-run stand with Alex Hales against India was beautiful and brutal to watch at the same time. They will also be hoping that Ben Stokes, Phil Salt, Moeen Ali, Harry Brook, and Liam Livingstone fire with the bat on the big match day.
With the ball, England will be looking to strike early and will rely on Stokes as well as Chris Woakes to do the same. Sam Curran has been a revelation with the death-overs bowling though he did take some beating from India in the last five overs of the semifinal. Though Moeen hasn't been called in to bowl a lot of overs, Adil Rashid and Livingstone have been impressive in the spin bowling department.
Both England and Pakistan have played lots of T20 cricket in the past few months. In September and October, England beat Pakistan 4-3 in a seven-match T20 series in Lahore and Karachi. Ahead of the World Cup, they played in a rain-hit warm-up match at Brisbane, which England won by six wickets.
Expect the MCG to be largely dominated by the green-clad Pakistani fans, who would be praying for 'Qudrat ka Nizam' to make Babar Azam & Co the champions in a repeat of 1992. But England, who spoiled the India-Pakistan dream final clash the other night in Adelaide, might have other plans up their sleeve to extend their quest for white-ball global domination.
England: Jos Buttler (captain & wicket-keeper), Moeen Ali, Harry Brook, Sam Curran, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid, Phil Salt, Ben Stokes, Tymal Mills, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Alex Hales.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Mohammad Haris, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shan Masood.
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