The Sher-e-Bangla stadium, located in the suburb of the Bangladeshi capital, may be a neutral venue for India and Pakistan but rest assured that the air will be thick with a cauldron of emotions as the hostile neighbours clash in the Super-10 opener in Group 2 on Friday.
Apart from a home team’s match, it’s only an Indo-Pak tussle that fills up the 25000-plus capacity ground to the brim and Friday being a non-working day here, it’s going to witness the sell-out crowd enliven the atmosphere. Just over a decade ago, India used to enjoy overwhelming support from Bangladeshis given the historic reasons.
Over the last 10 years or so, in the changed political equations within the country, a majority of the fans, especially the younger generation, have begun to sympathise with Pakistan as was evident during the Asia Cup match between the two arch rivals earlier this month.
Just as the changed attitude towards the teams here, back home in their respective countries, there has been shift in perspective when India and Pakistan lock horns. The days are gone, at least for the moment, when a victory in a cricket match against each other brought more joy than winning a tournament, however shallow the feeling may appear now. Today, the players from both countries can take on each other without the fear of fans stoning their houses or burning their effigies in the event of a loss.
It was thus not surprising to see MS Dhoni say the players today had less tension than their immediate predecessors and Mohammad Hafeez remark that the win over India wasn’t the be all and end all of it. That is, however, not to suggest that the contest has lost its significance itself. A victory for India over Pakistan, and vice versa, is still the most satisfying one.
It’s just that the undercurrents have blurred and so the teams can focus on the larger cause. India, beleaguered as they are following a series of defeats away from home, need to set their house in order and nothing less than a title triumph will stop their growing list of critics. Wednesday’s 20-run win over England in a warm-up tie here on Wednesday was perhaps the spark they needed to turn their fortunes around.
Encouragingly for them, their most trusted batsmen in this format came to the party. Virat Kohli was at his silken best while Suresh Raina showed just why he is one of the most devastating batsmen in T20s. MS Dhoni allayed injury concerns to his finger with a 14-ball 21 and Yuvraj Singh, too, was in good touch against Sri Lanka in the previous match. The openers, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, have been a concern though. The two have had starts of just three and 15 in the last two practice matches and Dhoni hasn’t ruled out trying Ajinkya Rahane at the top.
The spinners played a crucial role in both containing and wicket-taking though Amit Mishra went for a few against England. The leggie, however, may not figure in the final scheme of things. The seamers too have been ineffective in the Power Play overs and that might be potentially debilitating for the team.
Pakistan received a major boost with their mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi actively taking part in a training session on Thursday. The 33-year-old’s ‘revival’ as a destroyer with the bat has added more muscle to Pakistan’s batting while his bowling remains a constant threat. Besides Afridi, Pakistan have other all-rounders in Hafeez and Shoaib Malik who help Pakistan maintain the right balance. Like India, Pakistan’s seamers too have been profligate in recent outings but on slow pitches here, the spinners, led by the inimitable Saeed Ajmal, can make a critical difference to the outcome.
Given the composition of the sides, it can be safely said that it’s going to be India’s batting versus Pakistani bowling. Come to think of it, it has been so for most part of their cricketing rivalry.
Teams (from):INDIA: MS Dhoni (captain, wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron, Mohit Sharma, Stuart Binny, Amit Mishra. PAKISTAN: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Kamran Akmal, Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Shoaib Maqsood, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohd Talha, Zulfikar Babar, Bilawal Bhatti.