By Sreelata S. Yellamrazu
Pakistan have the home advantage. That seems to be the broad overview ahead of the all-important India versus Pakistan contest in the ICC World Twenty20 2016 after India’s unexpected and now notorious debacle in the first match against New Zealand in Nagpur.
One unexpectedly outrageous defeat was enough to set the cat amongst the pigeons. Although the pitch in Nagpur may have been far from desired as far as Twenty20 matches go, the manner in which the Indian batsmen presented limp defense en route to chasing down a modest target set by New Zealand was alarming as it was shocking.
Many eyebrows were raised when New Zealand, missing the recently retired Brendon McCullum, the chose to field three spinners in their playing eleven. Although New Zealand have had the better of India in their previous four ICC encounters, none would have lent much weight other than the fact that New Zealand have traditionally been robust contenders in multi team events at the ICC level. While some dubbed New Zealand’s ploy of three spinners at the cost of their regular pacers as over-the-top tactics, the manner in which New Zealand came hard at India’s famed batting line up with some teasing bowling and electric fielding, it put television pundits to shame for contending that India had this match in the bag at the half way mark.
What India’s defeat to New Zealand in the lung opener of the tournament has done though is open up the contest come Saturday when the hosts take on Pakistan in a virtual do-or-die encounter at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Arguably any match between India and Pakistan is a fiery encounter preceded by plenty of hype and fervor in the days leading up to it, this one in Kolkata will now assume epic proportions, especially as far as India’s fate in the ICC World Twenty20 is concerned.
That the precursor to the ICC World Twenty20 2016, the Asia Cup, hosted, only days earlier, one India-Pakistan cricket match that ended up being a damp squid matters little. With the New Zealand cricket team led by Kane Williamson presenting a ferocious first contest in the group round, India have been given a rude and huge wake-up call which will only intensify the contest on Saturday, adding one unexpected twist to the tale.
As far as the ICC World Twenty20 was concerned, India’s defeat at the hands of New Zealand was only the second time that a host nation lost their first match, the last being England in 2009. And it has to be said that Pakistan’s bargaining skills against a toothless International Cricket Council (ICC) and the BCCI (caught in a quagmire) had proved to be the decisive weapon in recent days when it seemed Pakistan would only play cricket in India on their own terms.
It would be farfetched to say that the India v Pakistan match at the ICC World Twenty20 2016 almost did not happen. Although Pakistan attributed Pakistan-specific terror threat to refuse to play in Dharamsala, the original venue for the mouth watering clash, and threatened to pull out of the tournament altogether, the ICC certainly raised a few eyebrows when it acquiesced to Pakistan’s demands to shift the match to Eden Gardens in Kolkata. (Australia and West Indies forfeiting their points for refusing to play in Sri Lanka during the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011 comes to mind.) The BCCI’s Anurag Thakur meanwhile was at odds with the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister who swung the matter Pakistan’s way after failing to give assurance about security matters.
That said Pakistan had their first taste of blood at the Eden Gardens, as they pulled out their finer aces in thumping Bangladesh comprehensively in their first encounter at the ICC Cricket World Twenty20 2016. With Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan Twenty20 captain, showing vintage devastating skills en route to securing Pakistan’s victory, that has only compounded to lay additional pressure on the hosts who must win this match to stay in contention without having to depend on permutations of other team’s winning percentages to stay in the hunt for the trophy they have won only once in the inaugural edition in 2007 when Mahendra Singh Dhoni got his first taste of success as India’s captain – this could be his last opportunity.
India had a fairly easy outing against Pakistan during the Asia Cup. But given the circumstances and their standing, it is likely that this India versus Pakistan encounter will have more than a few nerves on edge in both dressing rooms come Saturday. India have the firepower in their batting and enterprise in their bowling. But they find themselves on the back foot rather early in the tournament and given the high pressure contest, predicting a winner would be nothing short of a fallacy. With Mohammad Amir in the mix, it will be another interesting contest between the two sparring neighbours in less than a month, arguably this one more potent and loaded.
As far as the ICC World Twenty20 2016 goes, the contest just got spicier.