India's Virat Kohli in action during a practice session in Nagpur, Mar. 14, ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup match. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

India’s Virat Kohli in action during a practice session in Nagpur, Mar. 14, ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup match. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

Jolted by the shock loss to New Zealand in their opening game, India will be fighting a survival battle quite early in the tournament when they take on arch foes Pakistan in what is being seen as the marquee clash of the ICC World Twenty20 at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Mar. 19, writes Tapan Mohanta. (#Cricket, #2016WorldCupT20, #WT20, #WorldT20, #ICCWorldT20, #MeninBlue, #India, #Pakistan, #Afridi, #Dhoni, #Siliconeer, @Siliconeer)


The hosts, India, who started clear title-favorites, were in for a blow in the first match itself when New Zealand’s spinners bamboozled their famed batting line-up on a turning Nagpur track.

As a result, the world No.1 side is staring at an early elimination should it lose to Pakistan in the high-voltage game, Mar. 19, at the Eden Gardens.

As is the case with most India-Pakistan contests, this game too has been preceded by its share of drama.

The match was originally scheduled to be held in Dharamsala but was shifted here after the Himachal Pradesh government expressed inability to provide security to the Pakistan team owing to protests by ex-servicemen and their families.

Next was the delay in Pakistan’s arrival due to security concerns but the side eventually relented after repeated assurances from the BCCI.

The political undercurrents aside, the game assumes immense significance for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men after the opening loss.

Pakistan, on the other hand, would look to break the jinx of never beating India in an ICC event and they would be buoyed by the comprehensive win over Bangladesh in the tournament-opener.

However, dubbed the most unpredictable team in the world for a good reason, Pakistan wilt under pressure every time they face India in an ICC world event.

Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni plays a shot during the ICC T20 World Cup match against New Zealand in Nagpur, Mar. 15. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni plays a shot during the ICC T20 World Cup match against New Zealand in Nagpur, Mar. 15. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

Given the record, India do have the edge on paper and the team’s under-fire batsmen will look redeem themselves after their capitulation against the Kiwis while chasing a modest 127 on a notorious Jamtha turner.

However, Pakistan also did splendid job in brushing aside the off-field furor which was triggered by skipper Shahid Afridi’s comments that his players get more love here than back home.

With a legal notice on the skipper back home, it was the worse that could have happened to the 2009 champions who were already short on match practice and suffered early elimination in the recently-concluded Asia Cup.

But Afridi led by example with a 19-ball 49 and followed it up with his 2/27 in their huge 55-run win over Bangladesh.

New Zealand players celebrate their victory against India during the ICC T20 World Cup match played in Nagpur, Mar. 15. India will take on archrivals Pakistan at Eden Gardens, in Kolkata, Mar. 19. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

New Zealand players celebrate their victory against India during the ICC T20 World Cup match played in Nagpur, Mar. 15. India will take on archrivals Pakistan at Eden Gardens, in Kolkata, Mar. 19. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

Pakistani batting also roared back to form with half- centuries from Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad who added 95 runs from 68 balls to lay the foundation before Afridi sizzled at the Eden Gardens.

Their campaign on track, it remains to be seen whether they would be able to overcome the mental block of beating India in a world tournament.

Pakistan have lost to India six times in the ODI World Cup, and they have carried the jinx into the World Twenty20 as well having lost thrice—in 2007, in 2012 and in 2014.

India may be playing in their backyard but it’s the Pakistani team who would be supremely confident especially at a ground where they have a clean 4-0 win-loss record in the limited overs.

Having come here after their Asia Cup debacle, Pakistan won a warm-up against Sri Lanka before routing Bangladesh by 55 runs.

Having rattled the Indian top order with his 3/18 less than a month ago in Mirpur in his first outing after coming back from exile, left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir will also renew his rivalry with the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

A flat pitch and buttery outfield on offer, the Indian top three of Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli should have no trouble overcoming their nightmarish outing in Nagpur and provide India a perfect start.

Kohli, with his class and elegance, won the first round battle against Amir in Mirpur and was also at ease against Pakistan’s two left-arm quicks Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz.

Pakistan’s spin department is spearheaded by Imad Wasim, who impressed in the warm-up against Sri Lanka with his 4/25 and the stage will be set for him to get a superstar status.

Indian fans gathered during the ICC T20 World Cup match played between India and New Zealand in Nagpur, Mar. 15. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

Indian fans gathered during the ICC T20 World Cup match played between India and New Zealand in Nagpur, Mar. 15. (Shashank Parade | PTI)

The loss to New Zealand is a setback but it should be not be forgotten that India had lost to them in their victorious campaign in 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa.

It remains to be seen whether they make it this time too though no home team has ever won the previous five editions of the World Twenty20.

As for the rivalry, India may not have lost against Pakistan in a world tournament and Pakistan may not have lost to India in limited overs at the Eden but there’s always a first time.

In T20Is head to head, India have a 5-1 win-loss record against Pakistan from seven matches with one being a tie.

Given the circumstances, it is hard to pick a favorite but the stage is perfectly set for an enthralling contest which is expected to be played to a full house.

Teams:

India: M.S. Dhoni (Captain and Wicketkeeper), R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh.

Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (Captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Irfan, Sharjeel Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Khalid Latif, Mohammad Amir, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (Wicketkeeper), Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali and Khurram Manzoor.

Match starts 7.30 pm IST on Mar. 19.