The build-up to the India-Pakistan clash began once Dharamsala was named as the venue on December 11 last year. Political tensions and security concerns in the weeks preceding the World Twenty20, however, left the administrators and fans in a limbo: ‘Will they, won’t they?’
On March 9, a day after the start of the tournament, the impasse was finally over and the match was tipped over from Dharamsala to Kolkata. On the eve of the game in Kolkata, R Ashwin told a horde of reporters that the India-Pakistan rivalry was “probably bigger than the Ashes”.
India and Pakistan had provided a precursor during the Asia Cup last month when Mohammad Amir’s fire was countered by Virat Kohli’s ice. India grooved to the Asia Cup title; Pakistan suffered a pre-mature exit and were in chaos, with some barbs even directed at captain Shahid Afridi.
Both sides have played just a match in the World T20 so far, but have had vastly different results. The pressure is now on India who had custard pie smashed on their faces by the largely unheralded spin trio of Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, and Nathan McCullum. Things seem to be falling in place for Pakistan at the right moment: the top order delivered on Wednesday against Bangladesh, as did Afridi. Once-upon-a-time finisher, Shoaib Malik is back to slip in to a similar role, and can also bind the innings if there is a (familiar) implosion.
The Kolkata pitch has been on the sluggish side, but Pakistan’s penchant for pace is their way of life. India’s middle order, which has been shielded by Kohli’s imperious form, was brutally exposed by New Zealand, and Dhoni conceded the batsmen lacked adaptability. Can the middle order produce a better riposte if Kohli’s bubble is burst again?
(last five completed matches)
Watch out for
Yuvraj Singh had spent 144 minutes in the middle with the bat on considerably green pitches in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Three Saturdays earlier, he had to deal with the high-speed bustle of Amir and Mohammad Irfan. Yuvraj will have to contend with it again, and the stakes will be higher this time. Another loss can shake up the pre-tournament favourites’ campaign.
Before the tournament, Rohit Sharma had played down the Amir threat, calling the quick a “normal bowler”. In January, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis said: ” I still feel Amir is not at his best … he’s getting there.” He got there, or nearly got there with seven wickets at 11.57 in the Asia Cup. Slow pitch or not, normal or extraordinary, Amir will be Pakistan’s main man. Rohit v Amir will perhaps set the match up.
MS Dhoni fiddles with the XI only once in a blue moon. Ashwin remained coy on Pawan Negi’s inclusion in a high-pressure game against Pakistan. Ajinkya Rahane is available as a middle-order option, but India are likely to stick to the same XI unless Mohammed Shami comes in for Ashish Nehra.
India (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan 2 Rohit Sharma 3 Virat Kohli 4 Suresh Raina 5 Yuvraj Singh 6 Hardik Pandya 7 MS Dhoni (capt &wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja 9 R Ashwin 10 Ashish Nehra 11 Jasprit Bumrah
With the team finding some rhythm and opening its campaign with a big win, Pakistan may not disturb their combination either.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Sharjeel Khan 2 Ahmed Shehzad 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Umar Akmal 5 Shoaib Malik 6 Shahid Afridi(capt) 7 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk) 8 Imad Wasim 9 Wahab Riaz 10 Mohammad Amir 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
The Kolkata track for the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka match offered the spinners grip and slow turn. The quick fizzers and googlies from Rashid Khan, a legspinner in the mould of Afridi, also skidded on and tied down the opposition. A similar pitch is in the offing and the weather is expected to be fine for the duration of the game.
Stats and trivia
- The last time Pakistan played a T20 international in India, in 2012, Yuvraj clattered 72 off 36 balls.
- Afridi needs two wickets to surpass Lasith Malinga as the overall leading wicket-taker in the World T20.
- India have played Pakistan 10 times in the 50-over World Cup and the World T20, and have won nine matches. The Durban T20 in 2007 was tied, after which India prevailed in the bowl-out.
“We felt [the Kolkata crowd’s backing] in the last game. Probably after the statement of Afridi – which was brought into controversy and brought into newspapers and all over – we felt that we were very welcome, the crowd was really behind us against Bangladesh. I know it is not going to be behind us against India, but yes that is the positive we are going to take and we are going to try to play the best cricket.”
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis on the Kolkata crowd