'Dangerous' England face Pakistan in World Cup final but rain threatens at MCG
Skipper Jos Buttler believes an "incredibly dangerous" England will be hard to beat in Sunday's Twenty20 World Cup final, but Pakistan say they have "all bases covered" — and then there's the threat of rain.
After 44 matches spanning nearly a month, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) will host the deciding game to determine who joins the West Indies as the only two-time winners since the tournament's inception in 2007.
Pakistan tasted victory in 2009 when they beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets in the final, while England won it a year later with a seven-wicket win over Australia.
England will be favourites against a Pakistan side who have roared back from losing their first two matches of the tournament. Rain could though spoil the party with a 100 per cent chance of showers forecast and even severe thunderstorms.
A reserve day has been set aside on Monday but the weather is again expected to be bleak, raising the prospect of a washout and the unthinkable — the trophy being shared.
A minimum of 10 overs per side is needed to constitute a game, compared to five during the group stages. If the match starts on Sunday but isn't finished, it will resume on Monday from where it was halted.
Organisers on Friday tweaked the rules to give two hours' extra play on Monday should it be needed to complete the match. Three games at the MCG in the Super 12 stage fell victim to rain.
Notwithstanding the elements, Buttler is confident England can finish the job after routing India by 10 wickets in the semi-finals. Resurgent Pakistan beat New Zealand by seven wickets to earn the right to meet them.
"I think we're a good team, I think that's probably where the performance comes from," Buttler said.
"Some brilliant players in the team. When they play their best, we're a tough team to beat. Incredibly dangerous side, huge confidence in the group."
England have selection decisions to make with batsman Dawid Malan and fast bowler Mark Wood missing the semi-final injured. They were replaced by Phil Salt, who was not required to bat, and Chris Jordan, who took 3-43.
"We will see how they pull up and hopefully progress to be available for selection come the final," said Buttler of Malan and Wood.
Buttler's brilliant 80 and Alex Hales's blistering 86 did the damage against India, with the South Asian giant's esteemed bowling attack having no answers.
Who will handle the pressure?
Pakistan pace spearheads Mohammad Nawaz and Shaheen Shah Afridi will be tasked with blunting the in-form openers on Sunday. Pakistan team mentor Matthew Hayden said that was key to the final.
"It's obvious really, isn't it — quality fast bowling against quality batting, it's why you watch the game," said the former Australian great, who was Pakistan's batting coach at the 2021 World Cup, when they made the semi-finals, and was recruited again this year.
"But we've got four quicks that really make an impact and can create some sustainable damage inside 20 overs.
"One of the things I think India was really missing last night in the bowling department was a leg-spinning option — really a sixth bowling option," he said on Friday.
"Our side has six genuine options and a seventh as well should it be required. So I think the bases are covered."
Both teams know each other well, playing a seven-game T20 series in Pakistan ahead of the World Cup, which England won 4-3.
"I think the time we had in Pakistan, it was great for the group," said Buttler.
"It's going to be an amazing occasion," he added of the final at the MCG. "It's certainly something to be relished, to be enjoyed, and I'll just encourage us to play with the same freedom."
Hayden said the two teams were "even steven."
"On the day, who handles the pressure, who's got their game preparation spot on, who can handle their emotions, it's how they start and how they finish," he said. "All those cliches of the sport, they matter in the big games."