Cricket world cup 2022 is all set to culminate today, at Melbourne, Australia. The tournament sprang many surprises on cricket frenzied fans. Cricket lovers witnessed some cliffhangers, one-sided encounters and upsets. Mercurial and unexpected rise of Pakistan, early exit of Caribbean T20 power house, Pakistan defeat to Zimbabwe by one run and the Netherlands clinical onslaught against proteas, were some major highlights of the cricketing bonanza. Many hearts broke, and many went berserk with euphoria of victory. Many big guns failed to fire at the front, many underdogs produced magical exhibition with both bat and ball.
The tournament so far gave us some remarkable and sensational innings, spells, cameos and catches. Rain Gods razed down some hopes to the rubble. Chokers repeated their traditional frailty to succumbing to big match pressure. Minnows like Zimbabwe and Netherlands made two heavyweights to bite the dust. English openers took the world by surprise when they stormed into the grand finale, by thrashing Indian bowling attack very brutally. Some weird decisions from umpires added spice to the curry. Three runs off Nawaz’s free-hit-ball when he had clean bowled Virat in the Indo-Pak match, saw netizens aghast and shocked.
Now, all eyes are focused on historical Melbourne cricket ground where Pakistan will lock horns with England. Both teams have had clinical performances in their semifinal encounters. Before making threadbare analysis of the two sides, it is pertinent to mention here that 2022 cricket world cup final has many similarities with 1992 world cup final, though it may be a mere coincidence. Venue, teams, fourth digit of the year, dramatic rise of one of the finalists, rains spoiling some matches at league stage, are some notable similarities between the two events. Whether history will be repeated or a new chapter is added to record books, we have to wait a little.
MCG is believed to provide one of the balanced wickets. The pitch is thought to be full of runs, but will surely help pacers in the beginning. Over all, a decent wicket to bat on. Straight boundaries at MCG are longer while as the square boundaries are a comparatively shorter. Short pitch stuff will definitely cost bowlers heavily. Bowlers should try to bowl fuller and make batsmen to play on long on and long off. Though runs on the board is the big match maxim and mantra, but with rains around on both days, viz match day and reserve day, team winning toss, will prefer to bowl first. And both the finalists have won their respective semifinals while chasing. So, batting 2nd is not a bad choice, here.
Pakistan openers notched up a 100 plus opening partnership against Newzealand in the first semifinal. The duo of Babar and Rizwan were lambasted and critisised for their below par show in the tournament. But, the swashbuckling pair showed grit and application at the crucial time, and managed to secure their berth in the grand finale with a bang. Middle order has been good in patches. Iftikhar, Shan Masood and Shadab have scored runs but haven't been consistent. Induction of young Mohammad Haaris has given impetus to the Pak batting, but he should accelerate to improve his strike rate. You can't win world cup with the strike rate of 105 0r 110. Spin all rounders viz Shadab, Nawaz and Iftikhar reinforce Pakistan batting. Shabad and Iftikhar were brilliant against South Africa, and this pair set the tempo in Pakistan's favour. Nawaz has played a couple of flamboyant innings in recently concluded Asia cup and tri series in Newzealand. But, he needs a day to maneuver an opposition. It might be the finale.
Well, Pakistan's real strength is its bowling. Their pace spearhead - Shaheenshah Afridi is back in his rhythm and form, though he struggled a bit in the initial encounters of the tournament. The trio of Haaris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Wasim Junior have the ability to rip through any batting side. Naseem moves the new well, and can pose threats for English openers. Haaris bowls miserly in the death. Shadab produces magic with his flippers and googlies though he went wicket less in their semifinal against Kiwis, and conceded more than thirty runs. But, he has the potential to strike in the big match. Nawaz though spins the ball less, but can surprise batters. I won't be surprised if Babar starts with the left arm spin of Nawaz.
English men must be flying high in confidence. But, it won't be a cakewalk for them to lift the title. Butler and Hales are in tremendous form. They hammered Indian bowlers as if they were playing tap-ball cricket. It was just immaculate and clean hitting. But, Pakistan bowlers won't be easy to handle. If the pair of Joss and Hales plays batting power play without losing a wicket, things may turn ugly for Pakistan. But, Pak bowlers will try hard to eliminate the opening pair in the batting power play. If it happens for Pakistan, they will then take the control of the game because the English middle order has been rusty. Brook is not amongst scores, Salt couldn't bat in his first game of the tournament, Curran, Stokes and Mo-een haven't played big cameos. So, if their middle order is exposed in the final, they may collapse to Pak pace battery.
With Mark wood out due injury, Chris Jordan bowled well in the semifinal against India. He is a T20 specialist bowler. Curran can trouble right-handed pair of Pakistan openers with his away going deliveries. Butler might open his bowling with Sam Curran because both Pak openers are right handers. Chris Woakes can hit the deck hard and swing the ball in the batting power play. English captain has more bowling options available. Pakistan batsmen play spin well. So, Adil Rashid, Livingstone and Mo-een Ali make the English spin flexible. Australian meteorological department has predicted rains today at MCG. Let's hope the skies won't open up, and cricket lovers across the globe get to watch a spine-chiller.
(Author is a Teacher and a Columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)