Since arriving in India for cricket’s World Twenty20, Pakistan have been at pains to ingratiate themselves to their hosts. The bigger challenge, though, remains to start winning support back at home with their performances on the pitch.
Pakistan’s preparations for the showpiece biennial event of cricket’s shortest format have certainly been far from ideal. Indeed, their very participation in the event remained in doubt until late last week, when they finally got the security assurances they had demanded from the Indian government. With relations strained between the neighboring countries in recent years, the high-profile clash between the two in on Saturday had already been moved from Dharamsala to Kolkata over security concerns.
Thus is was notable that, upon finally touching down in India, captain Shahid Afridi made it clear how happy his side were to be there.
“We are more loved here than in Pakistan... I have not enjoyed playing anywhere as much as I have in India,” he said.
Predictably, perhaps, the comments caused a backlash in Pakistan, only increasing the pressure on Afridi and his teammates to start delivering on the pitch
“I hope [the controversy won't affect the players],” coach Waqar Yonis said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We had a bit of drama before coming here. We had a bit of controversy yesterday also. My message to the boys will be to leave everything behind, because this is about playing for the nation. This is about playing some quality cricket, and they’re we are all capable of that. We are a kind of a team that wins once we click—once we get the momentum going—we can surprise people.”
They have provided their supporters with little to cheer of late. And if Pakistan are to have success in the World T20, even making it out of the Super 10 stage and into the semifinals, a major upturn in performances will be required. Their campaign begins on Wednesday in Kolkata against a Bangladesh team that claimed victory when the sides met just two weeks ago at the Asia Cup.
For Pakistan, the competition represented their latest disappointment in Twenty20 cricket, following on from series defeats to England and New Zealand. Bangladesh, meanwhile, having also defeated 2014 World T20 winners Sri Lanka, went onto reach the final as hosts of the Asia Cup. And they continued their momentum when comfortably coming through the preliminary stage of the World T20, thanks to victories over the Netherlands and Oman.
Having made it to the knockout phase of the 50-over World Cup for the first time last year, Bangladesh will now be aiming to make the same breakthrough in Twenty20 cricket. Their chances will unquestionably be improved if they have exciting seam bowler Mustafizur Rahman available. The 20-year-old, who came to prominence by taking 13 wickets in a three match one-day international series against India last year is recovering from a side strain picked up during the Asia Cup and remains a doubt to take on Pakistan.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have plenty of selection issues of their own. While the bowling attack, led by Mohammad Amir—playing in his first International Cricket Council event since serving a five-year ban for spot fixing—can be a threat, the top of the batting order has been far from settled of late. Indeed, there was even a late change to the squad, with Khurram Manzoor being dumped over his failure at the Asia Cup and Ahmed Shehzad earning a recall.
Match time: 5:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV