MELBOURNE: For a while on match night, Indian and Pakistani cricketers and fans seemed to bring their own sunshine to the Melbourne cricket ground. It even looked like a possibility that the notoriously fickle Melbourne weather, in deference to the big occasion, would deign to hold off the rain in time for a full game on Sunday.
Continued grim forecasts from the local Met Bureau bombarded local news outlets all week. Flood warnings were issued as late as Friday evening. To follow them, it rained almost throughout the night, which led to Pakistan’s early morning session being rescheduled. When the Indians practiced a few hours later, bright sunshine, large crowds and happy chants were the order of the day. It seemed like a miraculous turnaround, but as expected, a short-lived one.
As Crowded House sang about Melbourne, “Even when you feel hot / The temperature can drop / Like four seasons in one day.”
In Melbourne, you never really know when you might need a jacket or a raincoat. Or a spinner or a pinch-hitter, for that matter.
From a 95% chance of rain on Sunday as recently as 24 hours ago, the prospect of rain on game day had dropped to 70% by Saturday evening. The rain is expected in the late afternoon and evening. The game starts at 19:00 local time. As of now, it looks like there will be some sort of game. The Met Bureau’s forecasts are of course subject to change.
This brings us to the not-so-good news: in rain-affected matches, team management can never really trust the combinations they have been working on and must be flexible with their plans. How skippers Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam must wish for rolling substitutes in T20s!
“I’ve been hearing about Melbourne weather for a while. It keeps changing. In the morning when I woke up, when I opened my hotel, many of the buildings were in clouds. Now we’re seeing sunshine,” Rohit said.
“You don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The things that are in our control, we’ll try to control them. We have to come here and think that it’s a 40-over game. If the situation calls for a shorter game. , we will be ready for that as well. Fortunately, we played one in India against Australia which was an eight-over match.”
A shortened game will mean they have to adopt a manic batting approach from the start, something India have been consciously working on for a while now, even as they put their faith in experience. A bit of swing when they bowl first in overcast conditions could be a boon. India were in Australia for a few weeks and played a few warm-up matches. A win here and they could be on a roll. A defeat and ghosts from last year’s T20 World Cup tournament and recent Asia Cup reverse could leave them watching in shock again for the rest of the tournament.
Saturday’s extended netting session, aided by screeching vuvuzelas and the ambient noise of conch shells blowing, saw those who missed out on the earlier day’s optional session get an extended run. Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and KL Rahul hit the nets. Match specialist and spinner Ashwin bowled at an empty set of stumps, under the supervision of coach Dravid. Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar went at Kohli and were often punished.
ShamiAxar Patel, Dinesh Kartik, Arshdeep and Rohit Sharma practiced a day earlier. The machine looks well oiled and ready to roll.
There are two major differences between the sides: Pakistan’s heavy reliance on extreme pace, a discomfort for opposition teams, and the diversity of options, for all positions, at India’s disposal. There are of course the Mohammad Rizwan factor: the Pakistan opener’s total of 193 runs at 96.5 (SR 130.4) is a record against India. Pacer Haris Rauf’s BBL experience for Melbourne Stars is invaluable experience of local conditions. Pakistan’s cricketers know a big hand here will propel them to instant superstardom, as Shaheen Shah Afridi will attest.
India are certainly under pressure to make a good start, but so much talk of the rain is a distraction. “Winning the toss does become a little more important,” Rohit muses worriedly. By late evening, as the Pakistani cricketers streamed in to train, ominous dark clouds once again enveloped the city. The joy, gaiety and sunshine of the early afternoon seemed like a forgotten memory.