Pakistan’s preparations for the World Twenty20 could hardly have been any more disruptive. Their start to the tournament proper, though, could scarcely have gone better. Coming into the showpiece event of cricket’s shortest format, Pakistan had shown little form and had not even been sure of making the trip to India until worryingly late. But all those concerns were brushed aside on Wednesday in Kolkata as they soared to a 55-run victory over Bangladesh.
And it was captain Shahid Afridi, who had borne the brunt of so much criticism before the tournament, who starred. The 36-year-old scored 49 off only 19 balls with the bat to help Pakistan to a commanding total of 201 for 5, before taking two key wickets to keep Bangladesh to 146-6 in their reply.
The tone was set right from the off after Pakistan had won the toss and elected to bat. The top of the batting order, which had been worryingly brittle of late, delivered an ideal foundation, with three of the top four scoring 49 runs or more. Ahmed Shehzad, dropped from the Asia Cup squad then recalled on the eve of the World T20 in a signal of Pakistan’s uncertainty, answered his doubters with 52 off just 39 balls. After Sharjeel Khan’s dismissal for 18, Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez, who went on to score an innings-high 64, produced a key partnership of 95 to set the tone.
And when Shehzad finally went trying to find the boundary at midwicket, Afridi promoted himself up the order and belied recent perceptions of his role as primarily a bowler rather than a true all-rounder. Having caused controversy on the eve of the tournament by stating that Pakistan felt more love in India than back home, on Wednesday Afridi let his cricket do the talking, firing four sixes in his quick-fire 49.
A score of 201 provided Pakistan with their second highest total ever in Twenty20 internationals, and best since 2008, to leave Bangladesh with a mountain to climb.
Bangladesh had triumphed when the two sides met just two weeks ago at the Asia Cup, a result that helped Bangladesh reach the final on home soil and send Pakistan home. With Bangladesh having continued that fine form by qualifying for the Super 10 stage of the World T20 at a canter, they will have fancied their chances of upsetting cricket’s pecking order on the big stage, just as they did when reaching the quarterfinals of last year’s 50-over World Cup.
But their hopes of chasing down Pakistan’s total were dealt a near immediate blow when Mohammad Amir, playing in his first International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament since returning from a five-year ban for spot fixing, wasted no time in taking out Soumya Sarkar’s off stump.
Bangladesh had just begun to sow some seeds of recovery when Afridi’s spin quickly removed the key wickets of Tamin Iqbal and Sabbir Rahman to leave their task all but insurmountable. Only Shakib Al Hasan's 50 offered any real resistance but Bangladesh never got close to the run-rate required.
The result means Saturday’s much-anticipated duel with India now suddenly has a very look to it. Coupled with India’s shock loss to New Zealand on Tuesday, it is Pakistan who will arrive high on confidence and with a chance to put themselves in the driving seat for a place in the semifinals, while dealing a knockout blow to their hosts.