It may be tempting to think that losing to Pakistan was inevitable sooner or later – that, in other words, the law of averages was bound to catch up. But the shock defeat could have major implications for the tournament, the biggest cricket event following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting the T20 World Cup as favourites, a position that seemed justified after facile victories over Australia and England in the warm-up matches, India now has its task cut out. It will have to win its next match with New Zealand, another formidable team, to ensure it has a decent chance of making it to the knock-out stage. What seemed like it would be a walk in the park is suddenly now an arduous trek up a mountain. Nevertheless, it is too early to rule India out. The rout against Pakistan owed less to India’s bad performance than to the former’s splendid show. It was well known that the Pakistan team possesses three major weapons – the calculating and unruffled Captain Babar Azam, the menacing left-arm quick Shaheen Afridi, and the cavalier in-form opener Mohammed Rizwan. All three of them fired on the day, and strongly. If Afridi put India on the backfoot in the very first over, Azam and Rizwan took Pakistan comfortably home.
Traditionally, Pakistan’s raw and explosive talent has co-existed with an erratic unreliability; together, they have contributed to a string of defeats, snatched from the jaws of victory, as the team routinely cracked under pressure. On Sunday, this was a very different Pakistan – calm, collected, clinical, and going about their victory with quiet efficiency. Much of this probably owes to icy-cool Captain Babar Azam, one of the best batsmen in the world today. As for India, it will have to go back to the drawing board and consider making some changes. It is no secret that the playing XI has a few members who did not perform well in the recently-concluded IPL, a run of indifferent form that has continued into this match. Perhaps, it would be wise to shuffle a couple of them.
What Pakistan’s victory has done is to throw the T20 World Cup wide open. The team has signalled that it cannot be ruled out. England is another strong contender. Since T20s are often decided by who performs on the day, Australia, New Zealand and perhaps also South Africa, cannot be discounted. Unpredictability is good for the sport and makes the competition keener and more rewarding for the millions of fans hooked to the tournament.