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US upset has lit fire under this World T20 and it’s about to get even hotter | Mark Ramprakash
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US upset has lit fire under this World T20 and it’s about to get even hotter | Mark Ramprakash

The USA’s stunning victory over Pakistan on Thursday has given this World Cup an upset for the ages – now it’s time for the game’s established giants to really bring it to life. This weekend sees two of the sport’s great rivalries renewed with England playing Australia on Saturday and Pakistan, now fighting to stay in the tournament, facing India on Sunday.

If the matches we have seen so far are any indication, they will be completely contrasting games, with England’s in Barbados, a familiar and often high-scoring ground, and India’s in the new pop-up stadium near New York, where batting has so far proved very difficult indeed. That is recognised now as the biggest game in global cricket and I expect it to be another very exciting occasion – I just hope we get a surface conducive to a good contest.

In Twenty20 cricket we have come to expect to see batters on the front foot, hitting through the line, scoring freely. These are early days, and the India v Pakistan game will be played on a pitch that has never been used, but so far in New York there has been a lot of uneven bounce and batters have struggled. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 77 in the first game there, Ireland for 96 in the second – by India, who dismantled their top order with their four quick-bowling options.

With unpredictable bounce and high-class bowling batters will have to be savvy. Those front-foot slogs we’ve come to accept as a regular part of T20 cricket may be replaced by more traditional skills and shots off the back foot – cutting and pulling – to give batters that little bit more reaction time. India and Pakistan have bowlers who can make the most of these conditions, but Pakistan’s struggles against the USA suggest the same is not true of their batters.

In Babar Azam and Virat Kohli both sides have players of absolute world class who can come in and play a more traditional type of innings. Where India look to have the edge is in power hitting, with Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Shivam Dube all high-class options. Pakistan looked poor in their two recent games in England and even worse against the USA, and need others to support Fakhar Zaman with that style of play.

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam plays a shot during the T20 World Cup match against the United StatesView image in fullscreen

They have taken a risk on Azam Khan, who has an international T20 average of only 8.80 but brings potentially useful – if not in this particular match – experience from the Caribbean Premier League. Whether his game will be suited to a quick New York pitch that requires lightning reactions is for Pakistan to consider; the way Mark Wood dismissed him at the Oval last week, with a fast bouncer into the body, suggests he may struggle. This is an occasion for sharp skills and calm heads, a real one-off, and both sides will be considering the type of cricketers they select for this game and whether those individuals can be successful on this particular surface.

England and Australia should feel a bit more at home in Barbados, particularly given that both teams played their opening games there. Thanks to the rain England’s did not last long, and they looked nervy against a Scotland side who as underdogs came out with absolutely nothing to lose.

Like many people, I’ve been waxing lyrical about England, and particularly the variety of their attack, but for a while the Scottish openers put them to the sword. What it proved is that anything can happen on any given day: if a guy comes in and has a really good night he can take the game away from you, and nearly all the teams at this World Cup have at least one player capable of doing it.

Australia beat Oman comfortably enough but they will be hugely concerned about the form of Glenn Maxwell, who got a first-ball duck in that game.

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In his past 10 T20 innings, going back to the start of the Indian Premier League, he has five ducks and has scored more than four only twice. It is dreadful form, and a World Cup is not the best time to feel your way out of it. But Australia also have the headline act of the IPL in Travis Head opening the batting with David Warner, that familiar, terrific bowling attack, an always extraordinarily competitive mindset and the confidence that comes from winning trophies.

There is always pressure in games between these two great rivals and particularly at a World Cup, but both teams will expect to progress to the Super Eights whatever the result and will be seeing Saturday’s match as a wonderful opportunity, a chance to beat one of the tournament favourites, to put down a marker, to demonstrate they’re here and they mean business.

Beyond that it allows them to get more experience of conditions in Barbados, which will come in handy if either makes good on their ambitions and the most of their ability, and they find themselves back for the final in a few weeks’ time.

Source: theguardian.com