Cricket’s World Twenty20 may only be two days old, but already it has provided its showpiece match of the Super 10 group stage with a very different complexion. Ahead of the biennial showpiece event of cricket’s shortest format, a meeting with hosts and red-hot tournament favorites India appeared likely to provide another chastening experience for Pakistan against their fierce local rivals. Now, though, it is India who will be under pressure for Saturday’s eagerly anticipated duel in Kolkata.
Coming into the World T20, India had won 10 of their last 11 Twenty20 outings, taking in series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka as well as victory at the Asia Cup, where they also extended their record over Pakistan in the format to six wins in their seven matches. Pakistan, meanwhile, had lost seven of their last 11 T20 international outings. On the pitch, their batting was brittle and the lineup mired in uncertainty. Off the pitch their preparations had been disrupted by security concerns that delayed their arrival in India for the sixth World T20.
Yet looking at both sides’ respective opening matches one might have thought those preparations had been reversed. India were stunned by New Zealand, losing by 47 runs after getting bowled out for just 79 on a turning pitch in Nagpur. Pakistan, meanwhile, sauntered to an impressive 55-run victory over a Bangladesh team that had beaten them just two weeks earlier at the Asia Cup.
It would, of course, be foolish to read too much into one match for either team. But what can’t be denied is that the burden of victory now rests with India.
The two teams were drawn into what certainly appears the toughest of the two groups. Along with New Zealand, Australia and Bangladesh, they will compete for just two berths in the semifinals. The opening win for New Zealand has only made the group tougher to call and leaves India knowing that a defeat to Pakistan and their tournament would effectively be over before it had even really begun. Such an outcome would represent a hugely painful demise for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team on home soil and in front of fans and media that demand so much.
Pakistan would surely revel in inflicting such misery, while also putting themselves in the box seat to make the final four. Already they have largely succeeded in putting the security concerns that dominated their buildup to the event into the shade.
Even the decision to move Saturday’s contest from Dharamsala to Kolkata was insufficient to placate Pakistan, with the country’s cricket board waiting until firm assurances over their security had been received from the India government until the team was allowed to travel. It was just the latest diplomatic wrangle between the two countries since political, and thus cricketing, relations were heavily strained by the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. Bilateral series between the two teams were due to resume late last year, but India refused to meet, even in a neutral arena.
Since arriving in India, Pakistan have attempted to do their bit to smooth over relations. Indeed, captain Shahid Afridi even said that “We are more loved here than in Pakistan... I have not enjoyed playing anywhere as much as I have in India.”
His comments attracted plenty of ire back home. But if the veteran all-rounder can repeat his Man-of-the-Match performance against Bangladesh, when scoring a quick-fire 49 and adding two wickets, on Saturday, his words will quickly be forgotten, both in Pakistan and India.
Venue: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: 10 a.m. EDT