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ICC World Twenty20: Friday’s blockbuster premiere

India-Pakistan marquee clash flags off Super 10s stage of the fifth edition of the ICC World Twenty20.

Tunnel vision: The last time India met Pakistan, in the Asia Cup earlier this month, Shahid Afridi turned the match around with the bat in the final over. MS Dhoni, who missed that tournament, will be well aware of the Afridi threat in a format best suited for his shot-making abilities (AP) Tunnel vision: The last time India met Pakistan, in the Asia Cup earlier this month, Shahid Afridi turned the match around with the bat in the final over. MS Dhoni, who missed that tournament, will be well aware of the Afridi threat in a format best suited for his shot-making abilities (AP)

Mohammed Bashir has made the trip to Mirpur from half-way across the globe. The one-time Karachi resident, who looks much older than his 59 years, runs a biryani joint in Chicago along with his wife who was born in Hyderabad, India. Bashir is a cricket tragic and a heart patient, plus he has a  weakness for India-Pakistan games. Three years back he was at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final between his two favourite teams. That was when he suffered a stroke, his third. He spent three days in the Intensive Care Unit but that didn’t stop him from giving up on being a traveling fan. Such is the pull of the India-Pakistan game.

Regardless of where these big ticket ICC events are held, the India-Pakistan game is always the most anticipated contest. Tickets of these games get snapped up within minutes of the online sales opening and as the D-Day nears the locals too get sucked into the hype around the games. This World T20 tournament is no different.

Along with the fans in green and blue, who have flown in from around the world, the Bangladesh cricket enthusiasts too will be trooping in to watch the traditional rivals cross swords once again. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the ICC event managers picked this sell-out match to kick-off the second phase of the tournament, the one that will see the big boys enter the field.

Though, the ‘war without guns’ phase of this once fierce, and at times ugly, cricketing rivalry is a thing of the past but still the fans, and the media too, expect some kind of aggressive posturing from the two set of players. Minutes after Pakistan middle-order batsman Umar Akmal landed in Dhaka, he faced a steady stream of questions from the media about the game against India that was nearly a week away. “India-Pakistan ke alawa aur koi sawal hai?” he finally asked with an expression of exasperation.

Jinx talk again

But there are some, like opener Ahmed Shahzad, who willingly add a bit of spice to the contest. “Hara denge hum. Is baar badal denge. (This time we will beat them),” he says while talking about the old jinx of Pakistan losing to India in ICC events. Maybe, Shahzad’s confidence comes from Pakistan’s recent win over India in the recently concluded Asia Cup. But World Cups and World T20s have been a different story as India enjoy an 8-0 streak.

Fans from Pakistan, who were at Durban, Johannesburg, Colombo — the three venues where both the teams have met in the World T20 — or at Sydney, Bangalore, Manchester, Centurion and Mohali for the 50-over Cup, will be hoping that there is a change in fortune.

Over the years players have changed but, interestingly, the template of the sides haven’t. Like always this Indo-Pak game too is likely to be decided by India’s batsmen or Pakistan’s bowlers. A line-up that contains Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni will worry any bowling line-up in the world. Or maybe not. That in case if you have the likes of Umar Gul, Sohail Tanveer, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Junaid Khan in your ranks.

Pressure games

Most of these pressure games are generally won by the team that keeps its cool. The last time when the two teams met – in the Asia Cup at the same venue – it all boiled to the last over. Ravichandran Ashwin had the ball in hand and in front of him was Aridi, who was wildly swinging his bat. The six with which the Pakistan old hand sealed the game barely cleared the rope. Had the shot been an inch shorter, the result would have been different. In that case it would have been Ashwin, and not Afridi,  who would be beaming.
It this unpredictability that sees fans like Bashir travel miles to see an India-Pakistan game.

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