Melbourne could be a city of four seasons in a day. You could walk out of your home (or hotel, as the case may be) with just a simple t-shirt on, thinking it to be a great Australian summer day. By the time you reach the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it could start raining. It would stop as soon as the team arrives, and a chilly gust of wind would take over. By evening, when you return, broken down by the vagaries of this unpredictable weather, it would be impossible to make out what season this classifies under.

And this Melbourne weather has dominated news headlines for the past week. India versus Pakistan, the biggest clash in world cricket, arrived at this city two days past for ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022. It feels like the cricketing world has descended here – anyone and everyone aware of the importance of this game, be it Scottish college kids or Dutch Formula One fans. They know a World Cup is on going and this is the main, showpiece event. Rain be damned, this game simply needs to happen.

‘For the sake of fans, we want a full game. Even the players want a full game. (But) We cannot control the weather,’ was the sentiment echoed by both Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam, in their respective pre-match conferences.

Rohit Sharma at MCG on the day before IND-PAK clash / AFP

That wasn’t the only common thread. Both captains agreed that the past didn’t hold water, and instead chose to underline that performance on game day is all that mattered. As thing stand, the two teams stand on contrasting banks of this timeline. Pakistan has broken the jinx, and that 2021 victory in UAE, repeated recently in the Asia Cup, gives them renewed confidence.

India, meanwhile, is searching for an identity. It is not something you can say for a cricketing side from our shores. And yet, it rings true for Rohit Sharma’s side. They are not world-beaters when it matters most, and yet, India are the world’s number one ranked men’s T20I side. Where does the truth really lie in this wide spectrum?

For starters, the skipper has strived hard to make sure this team reflects his outlook on T20 cricket. Be it the six-bowler formula, or pre-defined roles for the entire batting line-up, Sharma has brought forth the Mumbai Indians’ template to international cricket. It has helped the men in blue win 26 out of 35 games in the past 12 months.

Since that embarrassment in the UAE last year, India has won eight bilateral series and drawn another, with the only disappointment being an early exit from the Asia Cup. As much as this run has helped India to the number one ranking in ICC T20I rankings, Sharma and his men know fully well it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

“We have not won an ICC trophy for nine years. That’s in the back of our minds. There is always pressure of expectation (for any Indian team). But I don’t like using that word. I prefer using the word challenge more. This game against Pakistan is a challenge. This tournament is a challenge,” Sharma said.

It isn’t to say that this Indian team – under Virat Kohli – was unaware of expectations heading into UAE. Yet, certain difference emanates when the new skipper admits there was need for change. That early exit jolted the Indian think-tank enough to warrant an overall, albeit overdue, change. The greater shift in thinking was for the team management to admit where they went wrong.

The captains ahead of the tournament / AFP

Mostly it was to do with the batting mindset, especially from the top order. Not aggressive enough was the watchword when Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid went about rectifying mistakes. It is easier said than done when the previous regime has been in-charge for long. “We sat down with the players one by one, and understood what they needed to play with more freedom,” Sharma said.

Full text: Rohit Sharma on match-ups, pressure and more in press conference ahead of India-Pakistan

It has resulted in an aggressive outlook bursting through that top-order, right through the middle, and until number seven where Dinesh Karthik walks in with a cavalier approach to hitting everything out of the park. Of course, this instinct also needs to be tempered a bit keeping the bigger Australian boundaries in mind. A pertinent example comes to mind where Indian batsmen lost wickets in a flurry whilst trying to clear the ropes, both in the warm ups at Perth and the practice match against Australia.

As it turns out, this was all part of the plan, particularly during the Perth games. The team experimented with different boundary distances, on either side of the wicket, and varying game situations. In the build-up, the team has tried to go by an elaborate blueprint heading into the World Cup in a different light – break away from the monotony of bilateral or franchise cricket, and refresh settings. With several new faces visiting here for the first time, a week long camp in Western Australia has also helped the team get accustomed to conditions ahead, as they skipped an ODI series back home against South Africa.

Does it make for a relaxed approach before the all-important game against Pakistan? More importantly, was it the need of the hour?

A school of thought that suggests India got carried away in the UAE. Riding on the emotions of Kohli’s captaincy swansong, perhaps they tried too hard from the very outset and were caught flat-footed when Shaheen Afridi wreaked havoc. (Yes, even one spell can uproot your game plan to this great an extent.)

This time around, arguably, players have been allowed to approach things differently, in their own way. Sharma is a prime example. On Friday, during optional training, he was one of the handful players to turn up. Away from intense glaze, he had a rigorous session against the new ball, which included two left-arm pacers using the new ball and bowling in-swinging yorkers to him. Then, on Saturday, he didn’t pick up the bat in anger. He stood with his gloves on, evidently had a few knocks without pads or a full kit while hundreds turned up to watch Virat Kohli and Co have a hit.

“It is about how you turn up to the game. It is about how you perform on the day,” he said at one point during the press conference.

Sunday, then, is a fresh start for Indian cricket as the new management undertake the first step in their challenge of ending a near decade long wait for an ICC trophy.