5th over: India 30-2 (Suryakumar 11; Kohli 15) Babar Azam keeps Afridi on for a third over, but no cigar this time around. Kohli gets the blood flowing, the stadium dancing, driving Afridi straight over long-on for six. Pure timing and exhilarating wristy-power.
3rd over: India 14-2 (Suryakumar 7; Kohli 4) Almost more than anything, I am full of admiration for Afridi’s hair – the ultimate application of gel. After that wonder wicket, he tests and tests again, until Suryakumar has enough and pulls him for six just over the fielder at deep-square.
WICKET! Rahul b Afridi 3 (india 6-2)
Unbelievable! The ball swings in and Rahul is momentarily perplexed and it is a moment too long. Stumps akimbo.
2nd over: India 6-1 (Rahul 3; Kohli 3) It’s Imad, ponytailed and tall, with his slow left-armers. Kohli and Rahul push for gentle singles, some light relief.
Richard Thompson writes: “When I grow up, I want to be Shaheen Shah Afridi.”
1st over: India 2-1 (Rahul 1; Kohli 1) A huge roar as Afridi starts his Amazonian run up. He starts with two dots, at around 90mph, and Rahul picks up a single off the third. Then the wicket : a delivery bounteous in its gorgeousness. Kohli arrives at 1-1.
WICKET! Sharma lbw Afridi 0 (Indian 1-0)
A golden duck for Sharma as Afridi inswings a full ball into his pads, wham-damn in front of middle stump. No doubts for the umpire and Pakistan are flying!
Some confusion, but then India take the knee, Pakistan put their hands over their hearts.
Pakistan huddle just outside the boundary; Rahul and Sharma march to the middle. The first over will be bowled by Afridi. He dances from foot to foot at the top of his run-up.
Anthem time. Pakistan first, left hands on chest in unison, in slightly sludgy green kit this time around. Then India. They sing along, Virat Kohli’s collar raised in jaunty manner.
Extremely dramatic music on Sky as they play their preview package. In the ground, there seems, from the TV at least, more of an atmosphere than during England v West Indies: drums, drama, more people in the stands. The commentators are having to shout over the din.
The game will be played on the same strip where West Indies were bowled out for 55 by England yesterday.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi
While Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are battling it out in Sharjah in the highest-scoring game of the competition so far, what can we expect from Dubai? A slow pitch that will favour the spinners, but both teams also have Exocets in their fast-bowling pack. Princely showman Shaheen Shah Afridi for Pakistan, and India’s careful dissector Jasprit Bumrah. We expect the toss shortly, with teams to follow, it all kicks off at 3pm BST.
So…the opposite of familiarity breeds contempt?
For a little something special on a Sunday afternoon, how about the biggest international rivalry in sport? India v Pakistan has the pizzazz of cold-war style USSR v USA on the ice-hockey pitch, only with a ball and (slightly) less on-field agro. In cricket, only England v Australia can match it. But that has considerably less geo-political impact these days .
India stroll into the game huge favourites. Massive. They’ve beaten Pakistan in their last five T20 World Cup meetings and are favourites to bring home the trophy. Flighty Pakistan, whose pre-tournament practise was disrupted by the withdrawal of the English and New Zealand touring parties, will have to experience the Haal, as Osman Samiuddin wrote about so brilliantly here.
“Sometimes, but not always, it takes an unusual dismissal to turn on the light – a run-out, an electric catch, a part-timer taking a wicket. And then there is total frenzy, so overwhelming and real you can almost hold it in your hands. Such is its force that it can be deeply moving even through the sensory dilution and sanitisation of TV, even on ball-by-ball commentary online. But to let it get right inside your head and start rearranging your brain – like acid but a lighter, less paranoid burn – you have to be there as it happens.”
India v Pakistan was the most watched game of the 2019 men’s 50-over World Cup, with the ICC reporting 273 million unique views watching “linear TV’ with another 50 million digital-only viewers. Crazy, uncomputable, numbers but, however you look at it, lots of eyes. The figures for today are expected to be comparably huge.
And just for the lols, the two leading scorers in IT20s over the last three years? Babar Azam and Virat Kohli. Grab your condiments of choice, this is going to be fun.