India bolstered by return of Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj; all-rounders provide Pakistan depth

There can be few better ways of raising the curtain than India v Pakistan.

It is almost as if to say that the ICC World Twenty20 is not some slow-burning, fuzzily-warm familial gathering, but a party that explodes into frantic life.

Yet, for all the sense of occasion, both sides will be aware that in the context of the tournament, a single misstep at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium on Friday can turn the road ahead tortuous.

They met here not three weeks ago, in a nerve-shredding Asia Cup game that Shahid Afridi rendered unforgettable. There is somehow the feeling that victory that night galvanised Pakistan more than defeat deflated India.

There is a light in Mohammad Hafeez’s eyes when he recalls the match; another win here, it may be safely assumed, will send his nation into raptures.

M.S. Dhoni’s experience of the contest, though, was confined to his living room. That result did not matter to him, he said, offering the most wry of smiles. Even if he had indeed featured, it is a doubt if he would have been scarred at all. At any rate, Dhoni is back in charge, in a format of the game that he bestrides like a colossus for his IPL side.

Suresh Raina also returns, eager to redeem himself after a season when his form slid. He was a pivotal figure in the warm-up defeat of England here on Wednesday, a performance that should fill him with confidence.

Yuvraj Singh is back too after being ignored for Asia Cup duty. That Raina and he offer spin-bowling options strengthens the team considerably.

Same opening pair

Ajinkya Rahane was still a consideration, Dhoni maintained on Thursday, but it is likely that Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will continue to open. Neither batsman lasted till the fifth over in both warm-up fixtures; the team will want to utilise the Power Play overs better.

It is the bowling, however, that requires real work. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has played three T20 Internationals and Mohammed Shami none; the former, at his pace, can be picked off in the dying overs, while the latter has to quickly learn to be more accurate.

Dhoni has been swift to invoke the IPL when it is pointed out that India has played just one T20 International in the last 15 months or so. For all its benefits, the IPL will have rarely placed bowlers like Bhuvneshwar and Shami in the path of five or six world-class batsmen.

Much of the responsibility with the ball will thus fall on the shoulders of R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The off-spinner has combined figures of four for 42 from eight overs in the preparatory matches against England and Sri Lanka; not that much should be read into it, but sometimes it seems Ashwin cops more criticism than is actually fair.

It leaves one slot, apparently, to be contested by Varun Aaron and Amit Mishra. Dew, which has been a factor elsewhere in the country in the first round games, could be a consideration. Mishra’s case is a good one, though.

Pakistan, for its part, has little worrying to do about its bowling in 20-over cricket. Saeed Ajmal and Afridi, who has recovered from injury, offer eight fireproof overs.

Then there’s Umar Gul, who revels in operating towards the close. With a number of all-rounders, Pakistan has depth — however strong or weak that may be — that India doesn't.

In keeping with its hackneyed image of being an unpredictable team, Pakistan duly folded up for 71 against South Africa in a pre-tournament tie in Fatullah on Wednesday.

But such considerations often go down the sink when it’s the old rival on the other side.

Since its triumph in the inaugural edition of the World Twenty20, India has failed to reach the semifinals. It can ill-afford a stumble here. 

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (Capt.), Varun Aaron, R. Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, and Yuvraj Singh.

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (Capt.), Ahmed Shehzad, Bilawal Bhatti, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Talha, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, and Zulfiqar Babar. 

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