Pakistan will have it all to do to halt India’s Twenty20 momentum when cricket’s greatest rivals face off at the 2016 Asia Cup in Bangladesh on Saturday. Not only will Pakistan have to counter history as they seek just their second ever win over India in cricket’s shortest format, but they will also have to reverse the recent form of the two sides.
India have already got their feet under the table at the 13th Asia Cup, the first played in the T20 format, with an emphatic victory over hosts Bangladesh in the tournament’s opening match on Wednesday. There was an early test for India on a green pitch offering plenty to encourage the Bangladesh bowlers, and three wickets quickly went down. But India showed the strength in depth in their batting lineup, with Rohit Sharma firing a perfectly judged 83 and 22-year-old Hardik Pandya furthering his burgeoning reputation in international cricket with 31 off 18 balls. Veteran captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was barely needed as India set a commanding total of 166.
With the ball in hand, India finished the job with something to spare. Ashish Nehra took three wickets, fellow fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah took another, while spinner Ravichandran Ashwin helped stifle Bangladesh. There appear precious few weaknesses in the side right now, and after whitewashing Australia, in Australia, and beating Sri Lanka on home soil to start this year, India’s confidence must surely be sky high.
Should they need their belief boosted any further, then India need only look to their Twenty 20 international record against Pakistan. While meetings between the two neighboring countries in the format have been far from regular due to the break down in diplomatic and sporting relations, India have won five of their six contests, including their last one at the 2014 World T20.
The fact that Pakistan players have been excluded from the highest level of Twenty20 domestic competition, the Indian Premier League, since its opening season in 2008 has not helped Pakistan’s development in cricket’s most explosive format. Since the last World T20, Pakistan have only recorded series wins over Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, and they have lost five of their last six T20 matches, against England and New Zealand.
Adding to the current malaise and uncertainty hanging over the team, captain Shahid Afridi has revealed on the eve of the tournament that he may not retire from international cricket following its conclusion as had originally been planned. After stepping away from one-day internationals following last year’s World Cup, Afridi announced that the World T20 would be his swansong at the age of 35.
“There is a lot of pressure on me that I shouldn't retire from T20,” he said, according to ESPN Cricinfo. “That I can play on, and as such there is no real talent coming through in Pakistan whose place I am taking.
"For a while now there is a lot of pressure from my family, a lot of pressure from my friends, including my elders, who say there is no need for me to retire from Twenty20. That is a huge pressure. For now, in truth, I am focusing only on the World Cup. That is a huge challenge for me. "First I want to see where Pakistan stand in the World Cup. Whether I am capable of taking the team forward on the back of my performances.”
Other than a lack of talent to replace him, there has been little in recent times to suggest that the 35-year-old should continue. Over his last nine innings in Twenty20 internationals the all-rounder has averaged less than 12 runs. And it has been a similar story in the inaugural Pakistan Premier League (PSL), where he has averaged 12 runs, albeit while posting healthier bowling figures.
For both Afridi and his teammates, though, the hope will be that the PSL can provide, not only a long-term aid to Pakistan’sT20 prospects, but an immediate springboard for the Asia Cup and World Twenty20. The tournament has already had an impact, with two of the players who impressed in the PSL, Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Sami, being called up to the squad for both the Asia Cup and World T20 after injuries to Babar Azam and Rumman Raees.
India will be without Mohammed Shami, who failed to recover in time from injury for the Asia Cup, but otherwise look set to be at their strongest for Saturday’s fixture. Dhoni, who had been a doubt for the fixture with Bangladesh due to back spasms, took the field and appeared to have no further problems. If there is to be a change to the lineup, it would likely involve finding a place for Ajinkya Rahane, after he was dropped for the returning Virat Kohli.
Venue: Shere Bangla National Stadiu, Mirpur
Date: Saturday, Feb. 27
Time: 7:30 p.m. local, 8:30 a.m. EST