23September2017

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Asia Cup T20: India geared up for nasty confrontation against Pakistan

February 15, 2015. Adelaide Oval. Packed stands, loud crowds, plenty of colour. Indian and Pakistani flags had taken over one of Australia's most iconic cricket grounds. But even the locals couldn't complain. It was India vs Pakistan in the World Cup and it seldom gets bigger than that on the cricket field.

There was nervous energy on the field. The boisterous fans that flocked the Oval that day did not make it easy for the players in the middle. Somehow, Virat Kohli smashed a hundred but you could see that the Indian run-machine was far from his best. Shikhar Dhawan was more poised in his innings of 73 and together, the two Delhi boys put Pakistan's attack to the sword and made them bleed enough. 300/7 in 50 overs looked like a mountain to climb for a Pakistan batting line-up that lacked any serious firepower. (India have traditionally bullied Pakistan in T20Is)

And sure enough, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami shared six wickets between themselves to make it a one-sided contest. Pakistan were condemned to a 76-run defeat.

A year and 12 days later, the arch-rivals will meet again.

Plenty has happened since. India went downhill, losing ODI series against Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia. Pakistan lost further momentum in their game and more importantly, a scheduled series had to be put on hold after the political masters from the two countries failed to reach a consensus.

Pakistan were supposed to 'host' India in December but India refused to travel to the Middle East. Shortly after Pakistan turned down BCCI's offer to play in India. In fact, things came to a point where Pakistan had to wait for a government clearance to play the ICC World Twenty20 in India. After the nod, all eyes would be glued on Dharamshala where the sub-continental powerhouses will square up on March 19. ('Pakistan ready for India's formidable batting')

But before we get there, in a dress rehearsal, India and Pakistan will lock horns at Mirpur in the Asia Cup T20. Matches between the two sides have been generally devoid of bad-blood but there could be serious tension on the field this time. During the height of the Kargil conflict in 1999, Wasim Akram had declared that the World Cup game against India would be mere practice match. After being humbled by Mohammad Azharuddin's men on a chilly Manchester afternoon, Pakistani fans were baying for Akram's blood? Practice match? Against India? How dare he? Akram led his men to the World Cup final but that did not really matter. He had overseen defeat against India and that could not be tolerated.

Things may not be as heated this time but can you remember the last time India's relations were normal against Pakistan? If it's not cross-border terrorism, then it's Pakistani rhetoric. They had contemplated pulling out of the World T20! And then they wanted to play their matches at a neutral venue. The Indian board responded in kind. Anurag Thakur insisted India was capable of looking after its guests and if Pakistan did not want to turn up, the BCCI could not help it. (Pakistan star Shoaib Malik not scared of Indian batting)

And what about the fans? A year is a long time and Pakistani fans would be gunning for revenge. That Adelaide defeat was an embarrassment. After all the build-up between India's batsmen and Pakistan's bowlers, what did it all come down to? A superb Indian bowling performance. India meanwhile, have been supreme this year despite the ODI series defeat in Australia. They fought back to blank the hosts 3-0 in the T2 0 series before a resounding 2-1 win over Sri Lanka at home. An emphatic opening victory over Bangladesh has all but established India's supremacy in this format.

Pakistan on the other hand, have been through troubled times. Losses against England and New Zealand haven't helped the team's confidence. Mohammad Amir's return to international cricket after a five-year ban was marked by controversy and a mini-revolt in the side.

India are a well-oiled machine at the moment. Mahendra Singh Dhoni knows which 11 players will make the final line-up for the ICC World T20 opener against New Zealand on March 15. Pakistan, on the other hand, are still looking for the perfect combination. Two of their players in the original squad suffered injuries and they had to fall back on the ageing Mohammad Sami. Skipper Shahid Afridi is not the force he used to be while their openers do not draw the same confidence as their Indian counterparts. (Pakistan gets government's nod to play in World T20 )

But as generations of observers, fans, writers and players will tell you - nothing else matters on D Day. It all comes down to which team holds its nerves better. And if Pakistan can survive the tension of taking on a superior Indian side, they would have won half the battle.

Brace up for a cracking Saturday evening!

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