There could not have been a better way to warm up for the ICC World T20 than a match between India and Pakistan. The two archrivals play a practice game today in Colombo to get ready for the tournament that starts September 18.
Both India and Pakistan are placed in two different groups, i.e, Group A and D respectively. The only way these two neighbours can play each other in the tournament is if India finish first in Group A and Pakistan finish second in Group D, or, if India finish second in Group A and Pakistan finish first in Group D. If none of these permutations materializes then today's match is all we have to enjoy the mother of all battles. (World T20: Top 5 India-Pakistan moments)
India won the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007, but couldn't live up to their billing in the next two editions as they failed to qualify for the semi-finals in England and the West Indies. Batting will be India's main strength as Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj and Dhoni are all capable of dominating any attack with their exciting strokeplay.
Little has changed about Pakistan's cricketers over the years. They remain as unpredictable as ever, capable of losing badly one day and then beating the same side comfortably the next day. And the talent never dries up, whether it is finding young batsmen such as Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, or adding to their crop of promising fast bowlers like Junaid Khan.
Pakistan's World Twenty20 record also shows they are a side not to be taken lightly. They were runners-up to India in the inaugural edition in 2007, won the next one in England in 2009 and lost in the semi-finals of the last tournament in the Caribbean a year later.
India-Pakistan is always a high-octane clash that has several mini contests brewing within. Here are some of those:
1. Battle of Commanders: MS Dhoni vs Mohammad Hafeez: The battle starts right from the top. This is one contest that can test the nerves of even the coolest captains. While we have seen MS Dhoni keep his calm and outwit his counterpart in the two WT20 matches played in 2007, Mohammad Hafeez might test his skills. Or will our Captain Cool get the things going in India's favour with his Midas touch?
2. Abdul Razzaq vs Virender Sehwag: India wants Sehwag to fire against Pakistan and get some runs under his belt ahead of the tough battle ahead. But with Abdul Razzaq bowling from the other, will Sehwag be at his fiery best? Razzaq has dismissed him thrice in his career and he will test be today as well. Can Sehwag break the shackles and score big?
3. Shahid Afridi vs Gautam Gambhir: These two are not very cordial to each other on the field. And that promises to fire up the contest - just the way an India-Pakistan match should be. The only worry is that Gambhir injured his wrist in the practice match against Sri Lanka and is a doubtful starter today.
4. Irfan Pathan vs Shahid Afridi: The Indian bowlers led by Irfan Pathan have looked in good stead in the previous match and they just need to continue their positive run against Pakistan. Pathan, who is in good form, had picked five wickets to guide India to a comfortable 26-run victory over Sri Lanka in the first practice match. Afridi, on the other hand, is always a knock away from destructing the opposition. Who will have the last laugh?
5. Saeed Ajmal vs India's big hitters: It wouldn't be great idea if Indian batsmen took this Pak spinner lightly. He can entice you to dance down the track and go for bigger shots but that's just a well-rehearsed trap. India's big hitters like Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni need to give their respect to Ajmal but not get bogged down.
India: M S Dhoni (captain/wicket-keeper), Gautam Gambhir, Ravichandran Ashwin, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Piyush Chawla, Ashok Dinda, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Yuvraj Singh.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (captain), Abdul Razzaq, Asad Shafiq, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Mohammad Sami, Nasir Jamshed, Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat.
(With AFP inputs)