There has never ever been a doubt over Pakistan playing in the World Twenty20, despite their posturing over security, and insisting on written assurance from the Indian government.
Left to Pakistani players, they would have unanimously said they would love to play in India as skipper Shahid Afridi amplified their feelings on arrival in Kolkata. He went a step further saying that his players are loved in India more than in Pakistan and that there’s nothing like playing cricket with India.
Predictably, some of his compatriots, surprisingly former cricketers, didn’t like Afridi’s love for the Indians and his advocacy of playing cricket to restore peace between the two countries.
Former captain Javed Miandad, Pakistan’s most successful batsman, appears to be still smarting at his cancelling the trip to watch India-Pakistan one-dayer in Delhi in 2013 in the face of opposition from the then Opposition and now ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally Shiv Sena over the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government issuing visa to him.
Miandad and a couple of other former players were livid with Afridi for praising Indian reception to his team and said they should be ashamed of themselves and was hurt by their utterances.
The sideshow, before the main event gets underway on Tuesday with hosts India taking on New Zealand at Jamtha, Nagpur, certainly added some spice. More so, after the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) announced that it would be felicitating four former Indian and four Pakistani captains during the World T20 game between the two countries on March 19. The list doesn’t include Miandad’s name.
Be that as it may, after six days of qualifiers sent Bangaldesh and Afghanistan to the tournament proper after later winter rains dashed the hopes of a couple of other teams.
Both the teams can be of great nuisance value to some fancied teams. Bangladesh are in India’s half along with Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand. Can there be a tougher group in an international cricket tournament? But then in Twenty20, teams on paper may not matter much to the opponents.
A good over by a bowler or a smashing one of a batsman can make a world of difference to the fortunes of a side. The bowlers have acquired newer tricks to befuddle batsmen, who, not be outdone, have also been evolving with funny yet productive strokes.
India, Australia, South Africa and England seem to be the favourites of many to make the semi-finals based on recent and current form. The other three can contest the prophecy, just as former champions West Indies and reigning champions Sri Lanka, might seriously contest the Group A prophesy.
This is one format where an international team will refuse to accept it has little chance of beating the big guns. When it comes to winning the event, it is even difficult. In recent events, India outplayed Australia in their own backyard but on pitches on which they relished both batting and bowling, and immediately after Australia beat South Africa in the land of Proteas.
Now to the mind games; have the Indians peaked before the big event? Their opponents seem to think so and they are also hoping that the Indians will be under enormous pressure playing before their crowds. Yes, the Indians made no secret that they enjoyed playing overseas and performed well, too.
The Australians will be eternal favourites just as the South African chokers however strong their side on paper is. If India have experimented with its middle and lower order by pitch-forking Hardik Pandya for Dhoni to freely float around and making sure Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra are fit to carry on their calculative approach, the Australians think their names can unnerve any opposition.
The Australians can’t think of a better pair of openers than experienced Aaron Finch and Shane Watson. The combination pushed David Warner into the middle-order where he has made the batting order look formidable. Add to it Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, the side looks formidable.
The South Africans must be hoping that Hashim Amla will not be frightened by the Indian pitches and the attack just he was barely a couple of months ago, though in the Test series. Suddenly, he looks in great touch in all forms of the game once he left India. Dale Steyn is back after a long injury lay-off and the side is gambling on him just as the Indians on Mohammed Shami who had even a longer spell off the ground.
Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli should give the Indians the runs and Nehra, Jaspreet Bhumra, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should be handful for the batsmen. Pandya has turned out to be a major investment.
Some feel England will complete the semi-final ine-up as they see the aggressive approach of Ben Stokes, their modern day Ian Botham, to carry them ahead.
This is one format where there cannot be any clear-cut winners.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])