In the magnificent theatre that Eden Gardens is, two sub-continental giants will face off on a ‘Super’ Saturday.
This is a timeless arena that bears the invisible footprints of the past greats. It’s a stage that can inspire, elevating the level of contest. And the ground carries with it tales of courage and conquests, disappointment and despair.
Emotions will not be in short supply when India meets Pakistan in their first Twenty20 match at the Eden Gardens.
Excitement has reached fever pitch in this sports mad city. One can sense the tension rising as the most eagerly awaited league game of the ICC World Twenty20 nears.
Hotel rooms in the city are fully booked and the demand for tickets has been unprecedented. The game is in just about everyone’s thoughts and minds.
Given the stakes, passions could run high. But then, this will not be a ‘war’ or a ‘battle.’ At the end of it all, it will only be a game of cricket.
What a match it promises to be though!
Another defeat for India, after the disaster in Nagpur, could take the pre-tournament favourite very near elimination. “We know India will be under pressure, India will be feeling the heat,” said Pakistan coach Waqar Younis.
An India-Pakistan game in front of a huge, throbbing and expectant crowd here will be as much about mind as skill. Temperament will come to the forefront.
History favours India. It has always beaten Pakistan in World Cup matches. Only one game, at Durban, in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20, was tied before India clinched the ‘Bowl Out’.
But then Pakistan will be enthused by its ODI record against India at the Eden Gardens. It leads 4-0.
Both teams have ‘impact’ cricketers. In the most compressed form of cricket, they can swing matches in a hurry.
The duel, on a surface that could favour batting, could be tactically stimulating. Chasing, despite its pressures, might be a better option in a game beginning at 7.30 p.m. because of the dew factor. Bowlers, spinners in particular, could find it hard to grip the ball later in the night.
Speed, thrust and incision
The Indian top-order is bound to be tested. Left-arm seamer Mohammad Amir can bring the ball in sharply to exploit any lack of footwork. The tall Mohammad Irfan extracts bounce off most surfaces and the fast and furious Wahab Riaz may get pumped up by the occasion. It’s a left-arm pace trio of speed, thrust and incision.
The Indian top-order needs to stand firm. In case, Pakistan makes early inroads, the middle-order will be stretched.
From a Pakistani perspective, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni will be the danger men. Yet, after the debacle in the first game, the Indian batting will have to pick itself off the mat.
Pakistan found some momentum and confidence against Bangladesh. Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez do comprehend this format well. And the mercurial Shahid Afridi has run into serious form.
Off-spinner R. Ashwin’s duel against Afridi should be an engaging vignette. The young Jasprit Bumrah’s yorkers might make compelling viewing too.
As the dust settles on what could be another gripping, ferocious clash on Saturday night, the crowd at the Eden Gardens might have another captivating story to tell.
India (from): M.S. Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Ajinkya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi, Mohammad Shami.
Pakistan (from): Shahid Afridi (captain), Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Sami, Khalid Latif, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Nawaz.
Match starts at 7.30 p.m.