The teams trained with a glint in their eyes. The media swarmed around them, hoping to pick up on something; anything that can be used to enhance coverage. Smartly-dressed security personnel were out on patrol; ten of them to one player from either XI. No one wanted to slip up and everyone was excited. India-Pakistan cricket was in the air.
As has happened in the past, political tension between the two countries had sidelined a bilateral series that was supposed to take place in December 2015. So here in Bangladesh they meet and add to a series of one-off contests dating back to the 2013 Champions Trophy in England. The last time India and Pakistan played a bilateral series was in 2012-13 – two T20Is and three ODIs.
There is no shortage of emotion and expectation from fans around the world, even without the lure of an Asia Cup trophy. It’s a little harder to gauge the pulse of the players themselves though. Virat Kohli was democratic. “There is a lot of hype, which is exciting for the people. But on the field it’s the same as playing any other team.” And Shoaib Malik made the average person feel closer to the team. “People from both countries enjoy this encounter and they want their team to win. The cricketers are the same, they give their best and enjoy the contest a lot.” On some level, it seems Saturday may just be a bit of sparring bout before the main event at the World T20.
(last five completed matches)
India W W W L W
Pakistan L L W W W
Watch out for
Sarfraz Ahmed is the kind of batsman that leaves an impression. He is plucky, inventive, excellent against spin and immensely competitive. In fact, a genial game of sepak takraw – a Southeast Asian sport also called kick volleyball – at training in Fatullah became comically intense and Sarfraz had a fine time refuting every line call made by the referee. His combative nature stems from a strong will to win and Pakistan will benefit from that. Fun fact: he has played three ODIs against India but never once batted against them.
It’s been a while since an Indian fast bowler generated as much excitement as Jasprit Bumrah has. The last one was perhaps Mohammed Shami, when he reverse swung West Indies into oblivion in Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell series. With that unusual action and that uncanny knack for hustling the batsman for pace, India will have strong hopes to punch a few big holes into the opposition line-up.
MS Dhoni and Ashish Nehra were given time off from training in Fatullah on Friday. It seems the back spasms that troubled the captain haven’t completely died down. Dhoni had said it had been “difficult” convincing the team management to let him play the Asia Cup opener. Perhaps the weight of an India-Pakistan game might just persuade him to stand his ground again.
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk)/Parthiv Patel, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ashish Nehra
Pakistan are rife with fast bowlers. Mohammad Sami is back again, Mohammad Amir looks like he’s back for good, Mohammad Irfan doesn’t spare his own batsmen of the discomfort a seven-foot quick can cause, Wahab Riaz loves a fight and Anwar Ali can be excellent with the new ball. All of them trained under Waqar Younis and Azhar Mahmood’s watchful eyes. Even the captain Shahid Afridi agreed the game would be a contest between his bowlers and India’s batsmen.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Sharjeel Khan, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Umar Akmal, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Imad Wasim, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi (capt), 8 Anwar Ali/Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
The pitches for the Fatullah qualifiers were brilliant for batting. The ball came on nicely and the bounce was true. Mirpur has also been similar, except for the fact that early on it has also provided sideways movement. Light showers are forecast for the morning, but they shouldn’t impact the match.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have only four players from the XI that faced India last in a T20I – Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Akmal.
- India have nine – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
“It plays a huge part. If any individual knows he has the backing of his captain and the management, that’s when he opens up and tries to express himself and gets that performance out.”
India batsman Rohit Sharma highlights the effect consistency in selection has on a player
“I think for me the Asia Cup and the World Cup is more important than my retirement and I am focusing on that at the moment.”
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi lays out his priorities