Rain threatens what could be a dramatic finale to the T20 World Cup. If the game gets underway on Sunday, sparks could fly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with England’s batting might clashing with Pakistan’s fearsome bowling. There are no favourites among the evenly matched teams, a fact evident from England’s narrow 4-3 T20 series win in Pakistan. That makes for a fiercely fought final.
The MCG last hosted these two teams in a final in 1992. That was the ODI World Cup, where Wasim Akram’s magical spell torpedoed the dream of Graham Gooch-led England. The memories of Pakistan captain Imran Khan hoisting the cup must inspire the Babar Azam-led team.
Can England avoid a repeat? Can they win first the first T20 World Cup since 2010? Of course, they can. If you have doubts, check out their mauling of India in the semifinal. Even in the absence of pace ace Mark Wood, England bowled well to restrict India, who at one stage were 63/2 in 10 overs. That gives a fair idea of England’s bowling strength.
How good is England’s bowling?
The sheer variety of bowlers is good enough to rival Pakistan, although captain Babar Azam boasts a better pace battery. Even without Reece Topley, Jofra Archer and Wood, England have an attack that could win the World Cup.
Wood’s likely absence deprives England of express pace, but Chris Woakes’s seam and swing have posed plenty of problems. Sam Curran’s left-arm swing and variety have been effective at every phase.
It’s the middle overs where England have been particularly good at throttling rival batters. Much of the credit should go to the skill and accuracy of leg-spinner Adil Rashid. When England have rival batters under the pump, skipper Jos Buttler has had the luxury of using Liam Livingstone, who bowls a mix of leg-breaks and off-breaks. The two have been so good that regular off-spinner Moeen Ali bowled just one over in the tournament. Well, that could change against Pakistan’s left-handed batters.
Half of the battle will be won if England’s bowlers can knock off the openers Azam and Mohammad Rizwan early. They are the bulwark of Pakistan’s batting, but young Mohammad Haris is a real threat as his counter-attack can change the tempo of the innings. England should be able to reel in the rest.
If Dawid Malan fails to recover from injury, that could hurt England. They have so much quality in their batting that Malan’s absence wouldn’t usually affect them. But the final is no ordinary game. Pakistan’s four-pronged pace attack is potent on any pitch. So a repeat of Jos Buttler-Alex Hales show is unlikely as each fast bowler’s mode of attack is different. (Pakistan’s failure to stop them will lead to another carnage.)
The loss of an early wicket would have brought Malan to absorb the pressure. Remember the wobble against Bangladesh? It required the steady hand of Ben Stokes to steer England through the choppy waters. Phil Salt could do a Malan, but he hasn’t had a bat in the middle. So there are some question marks there.
Those wouldn’t worry England since they bat very deep. Rashid, who comes in at No 11, can clout a few sixes. It’s reassuring to have batting depth, but when pressure kicks in, none of that matters. How many times have been seen strong batting sides cave under pressure? So talent aside, England should be strong mentally.
Will the overcast MCG skies make a difference?
Buttler wouldn’t be too worried since his batters are all experienced campaigners. Harry Brook is the only newcomer in international cricket. He’s had a good tour of Pakistan but hasn’t been among the runs in the World Cup, but England will persist with him. Buttler and Hales have been in such good nick that it’s difficult to gauge the form of the rest.
An England win depends on the batters’ ability to tackle Pakistan’s blend of pace and spin, which is the best in the tournament. That’s not easy at the MCG with overcast skies. Or, the Pakistan batting should capitulate.
An explosive final looms. Hope the rain stays away. A truncated finale is no fun.