Kolkata, March 18 (IANS) India host traditional rivals Pakistan in a match having plenty at stake for both the cricketing nations in the World Twenty20 at the Eden Gardens here on Saturday.
For the home side, it is a game which they need to win at any cost having lost their group stage opener against New Zealand by 47 runs on Tuesday.
On a turning track in Nagpur, the rookie New Zealand spinners were able to spin a web around the Indian batting. After India restricted their rivals for 127/7, it looked like the hosts would cruise to a victory, but then the unthinkable happened.
The pitch turned square and so did the Indian batsmen. Only Virat Kohli (23), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (30) and Ravichandran Ashwin (10) got to double figures as the Indian innings folded for 79 in 18.1 overs.
But the Eden wicket here won’t be such a turner. Though there definitely will be purchase on offer for the bowlers, India will bank on their famed batting line-up to fire.
It has been a happy hunting ground for Rohit Sharma. The opener has scored plenty whenever he has walked out to bat and would wish to continue his love affair with the stadium against Pakistan. It will be interesting to see how Rohit deals with in-form left-arm seamer Mohammad Amir, who got him out in the Asia Cup a few weeks back.
Apart from Amir, Pakistan have two more left-arm pacers in Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan.
The team would also look up to Kohli to deliver. Against Pakistan, the Indian talisman averages 66.33 in five T20Is.
The middle order too needs to get some runs. Though Yuvraj Singh has got a few under his belt, all-rounder Hardik Pandya has had a lean patch with the willow with scores of 1, 2, 0 in his last three outings. Left-hander Suresh Raina, too, hasn’t looked too convincing.
Cricket lovers would be keen to see how skipper Dhoni shuffles his bowlers around. Pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Ashish Nehra have been among wickets and have been well backed by Ashwin and Pandya.
The last face-off between the two sub-continental giants took place in the Asia Cup, with India chasing down Pakistan’s 83 with five wickets to spare.
But that was a story that unfolded last month. A lot has changed in a matter of three weeks. And the first T20 International at Eden that involves the sub-continental rivals will be a fresh start.
Now, India seem under pressure against a side bolstered by a Shahid Afridi show. The skipper and veteran all-rounder plundered a 19-ball 49 and then picked up two crucial wickets with his leg-spin as Pakistan grabbed a 55-run victory over Bangladesh here on Wednesday.
There has been a lot of drama surrounding the Pakistan team over the last few days. It all started with their dismal performance in Asia Cup. Then Afridi received heavy flak for saying that he has got more love from India than from his own country.
However, the visitors have answered their critics in some style and would look to continue on their winning ways when they battle India.
Pakistan batsmen Mohammad Hafeez (64) and Ahmed Shehzad (52) were instrumental in their win over Bangladesh. They liked batting on the Eden surface and there’s no reason why they cannot repeat the show.
Overall, it will be a fight for the Indians to stay alive in the competition. But predicting the winner of such a high-pressure game is akin to solving a Chinese puzzle.
The statistics, too seem divided.
Head to head, in seven T20 International outings, India have won five, lost one and tied one.
But at Eden, Pakistan have fared extremely well — albeit in the longer two formats of the game. Out of 14 India-Pakistan matches — Tests and One-Dayers — at the venue, Pakistan have won seven and lost only two.
Again, India have never lost to Pakistan in any ICC tournament.
Tickets for the showdown have already flown off the racks and, come Saturday, Eden Gardens is set to witness 65,000 supporters packing the stadium to scream their lungs out.
The teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja , Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bhumrah, Ashish Nehra, Pawan Negi, Mohd Shami.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (Captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Khalid Latif, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Anwar Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Aamir, Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Sami.