Rain threat looms over India-Pakistan blockbuster

Cricket - Asian Cup - India v Pakistan - Dubai International Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - August 28, 2022 Fans are pictured with flags inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Satish Kumar

MELBOURNE, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Arch-rivals India and Pakistan are set to renew cricket's most adrenalin-fuelled rivalry in Sunday's T20 World Cup match in Melbourne but the threat of rain looms over the blockbuster featuring the former champions.

With bilateral cricket remaining suspended between the neighbours, thanks to their soured political relations, emotions run high every time they clash in multi-team events in a neutral venue.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground is set to become a cauldron of emotions but the tournament's most anticipated clash could prove a damp squib with rain forecast this weekend and India skipper Rohit Sharma said his team will be ready.

"The toss does become a little important. But again, I've been hearing about the Melbourne weather for a while now and it keeps changing," Rohit said. "You don't really know what is going to happen tomorrow.

"The things that are in our control we'll try and control... We need to come here thinking that it's a 40-over game. We'll be ready for that. If the situation demands that it's a shorter game, we'll be ready for that as well.

"A lot of the guys have played such kinds of games before, and they know how to manage themselves in a situation like that where you're getting ready for a 40-over game and then suddenly it's a 20-over game for both sides."

Players from both sides have sought to downplay the hype around the match even though tickets sold out within five minutes of going on sale earlier this year.

They even hobnobbed with each other though many suspect the bonhomie is a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure of expectation from their unforgiving fans back home.

India will be particularly under pressure to avoid a repeat of the last year's World Cup when a 10-wicket thumping by Pakistan in their opener set the tone for their early exit from the tournament.

The strike rate of their top order and death bowling remains a concern for the inaugural champions who are without injured pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.

The onus is on their explosive middle order, led by the swashbuckling Suryakumar Yadav, to come good against Pakistan's formidable pace attack bolstered by Shaheen Afridi's return from a knee injury.

Afridi had removed Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul in last year's tournament to set the tone for their comprehensive victory and the left-arm speedster would be eager to prove his class on Sunday.

Pakistan's much-maligned middle order showed signs of form in the recent tri-series in New Zealand but a lot would depend on what kind of start they get from Mohammad Rizwan, currently the top-ranked T20 batter, and skipper Babar Azam at the top of the order.

"It's a high-pressure game but we'll try to keep it simple and keep faith in our abilities and the practice that we've done," said Babar.

India's Yadav separates Rizwan and Babar in the official rankings and fans would be justified in expecting batting fireworks in a match featuring the world's top three T20 batters.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Pritha Sarkar

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