The colosseum is sun-baked on Saturday but the forecast is grim on match day, for 100% rain, meaning ticket counters are largely devoid of those heartbroken, last-minute hopefuls who always provide the pulse to a contest.
The fan zone is only a slightly peppier affair, all manufactured effect, food carts, smells and babies in prams. Forgotten melodies meld into wistful glances. Everyone present here breaks into a painful, embarrassed, knowing nod.
There will be rain and there will be no India-Pakistan final either and it’s all absolutely unfair and it shows in their faces, especially those of the Pakistani fans!
This is a far cry from the whirlwind-riding fervour, all colour and passion and pulsing heartbeat, which so memorably invaded these hallowed grounds just last month.
Jos Buttler 🆚 Shaheen AfridiWho’s coming out on top in the #T20WorldCup final?#PAKvENG head-to-head ➡️… https://t.co/AiAM1nTrDy
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) 1668305728000
Had it not been for the rain forecast, England versus Pakistan, with dollops of once-in-a-generation dynamism on either side, would have stirred passions like no other.
Jos Buttler’s mighty England side is still the stronger team on paper, possessing as much ‘junoon’ as the vibe-fuelled, fortune-favoured, magic-weaving, god-fearing Pakistani outfit.
Still, the excitability of an India-Pakistan final would have been a different beast, says the masked fan ‘Pakistani Hulk,’ real name Fahad Malik, in between poses and chants of “Pakistani Hulk smash Buttler!” and “Pakistani Hulk smash Stokes!” After a while he tires and storms off, saying the green flags will be out in full force on Sunday, never mind the rain.
That they will, praying for a perfect end to a Pakistani campaign which has had uncanny similarities to the Imran Khan-led side’s 1992 World Cup win. That time too, they had lost to India, had been written off halfway through the group stage, then bounced back with some strong performances before the hand of god intervened: Pakistan escaped with a no-result, and split points, in a rain-hit game at the Adelaide Oval against England in which the side had been dismissed for 74 in 40.2 overs.
The tide turned. This time, it was the fortuitous Dutch victory over South Africa, again in Adelaide, which showed destiny still had plans for Babar Azam’s mercurial Pakistan. Then as now, England are in their way in the final at the same MCG.
So, is it written this time? “Yekin hamara zyada hi hota hai (our belief / trust is always high),” said captain Babar, one among a shining array of big names in the Pakistani side who can ride the pulse of a big contest.
“Hamara belief Allah ki taraf se hota hai, Allah humey opportunity deta hai, result Allah hi decide karega… humey bus acchey tarikey se opportunity ko utilise karna hai.”
Expect plenty of 🎆 in the #T20WorldCup final!Who comes out on top between Pakistan’s powerful bowling attack and… https://t.co/vGxdhQXgPI
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) 1668302128000
This is what drives Pakistan’s cricketers, when they got into that sort of zone, or ‘dhun’, in which nationalistic pride, self-belief, faith and cricketing ability all meld into one to fuel memorable performances on the field of play.
England, too, have shed the timidity of the past and learned to rely more on passion and biggame sense to unleash their T20 smarts. The likes of Buttler, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood (who is a doubtful starter but took part in the nets) and Adil Rashid can be as maverick in their approach as their Pakistani counterparts, as blessed with cricketing ability and as capable of embracing the big stage as the likes of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shadab Khan or Mohammad Rizwan.
This is not just a contest of tactical smarts, no World Cup final in any sport truly is, but a stage for those who can shine grandest under pressure. So while there are a lot of cricketing similarities between the sides, including the reliance on pace, on this day the talk is all of vibe and vision.
While Babar spoke about God, Buttler talked about the time when, as a child playing in the garden, he would pretend to lift a World Cup trophy in his hands. “I’ve certainly had a few dreams about that kind of thing,” he said. “It really links to what you were like as a kid, the kinds of things you would be doing in the garden with your brother and sister, pretending to lift a trophy… and now to be able to have that chance is incredibly special.”
England prepare for the ultimate battle against Pakistan 💪#T20WorldCup #PAKvENG https://t.co/LtjhRd610f
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) 1668238249000
Buttler would want to hang on to the dream a day longer. If the gods cannot decide a winner they will make it pour for two days and the trophy will be shared. Organisers need to get in at least a 10-over game, which in case of further interruption on Sunday can spill over to the reserve day, which also has heavy rain forecast. If, like in the India-Pakistan game, we are destined to have a classic, the rain will defy the Bureau of Meteorology and stay away just long enough.
The green-clad Pakistan fan and the itinerant cricket tragic better have hand on heart, and fingers crossed, if the sound of bat hitting ball echoes around the cavernous MCG on Sunday.