After weeks of buildup focused largely on security concerns, India and Pakistan will finally get down to playing cricket on Saturday when the two fierce rivals square off at the World Twenty20. It is a contest that will take place at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens after a late switch from Dharamsala due to the security situation. And it is also one that has only been given extra significance by what transpired in the opening round of fixtures in the tournament’s Super 10 group stage.
Most notably, a defeat for India would not only present Pakistan with some rare bragging rights but could also spell the end of their hopes in the competition. The hosts came into the showpiece event in cricket’s shortest format in fine form and as red-hot favorites after winning series against Australia and Sri Lanka as well as lifting the Asia Cup. But they were left stunned by New Zealand, and in particular their spinners, in a 47-run defeat on a turning pitch in Nagpur on Tuesday.
Along with the defeat, India suffered a net run-rate of -2.350, which will take some recovering from and means they are already up against it to progress from a tough group that has been turned on its head by New Zealand beating not only India but also highly fancied Australia. India, though, remain confident of rebounding strongly.
“If ever there is an international team that can put it behind and go forward then it’s us,” spinner Ravichandran Ashwin said in a pre-match press conference. “It’s not the first time it has happened to us, we’ve done it in the past. I can’t really put a finger and say why it is but I think we have the wherewithal to come back from that game.
“That is what we’re looking forward to. Let’s just assume we go through to the finals having lost a game, in 2014 [the last World T20] everybody said we haven’t lost the game so there’s very chance we’ll lose the final. From here on if we go through well be more dangerous than we were when we started the tournament.”
Adding to the task for India, though, is the fact that they’ll be taking on opponents who secured a morale-boosting opening win. Pakistan had been in poor run of form coming into the tournament, losing seven of their last 11 matches, but they got off to a dream start when cruising past Bangladesh in a 55-run victory on Wednesday. There was particular vindication for captain Shahid Afridi, who answered his critics with a quick-fire 49 with the bat and then two key wickets with the ball.
But Afridi will be all too aware of the challenge of going up against their biggest foes. India have won six of the seven Twenty20 internationals played between the two countries, while in World Cups—both 50-over and 20-over varieties—India have won all 10 of their meetings.
The last time the sides met was just three weeks ago, when India again triumphed on their way to winning the Asia Cup. This latest contest will have even more riding on it, not that matches between the two countries require any extra spice.
“This rivalry is huge, it’s very hard to put a finger on and say how huge it is,” Ashwin said. “As far as Indians and Pakistanis go, I don’t think they watch this game as a game of cricket, it’s more of a border rivalry. They want to get one up on each other so there is much more to the game rather than the game itself taking center stage. As far as people are concerned, they put their emotions into the game. For the players, it’s about trying to keep the emotions aside and trying to play the game the best way we can.”
Match time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV