India and Pakistan all set for an intense face-off

Within 24 hours of suffering a last-ball defeat against England at Mumbai, M.S. Dhoni’s men found a diverse range of off-field challenges to cope with as they flew to Bangalore on Sunday.

They had to accept that Sachin Tendulkar in the blue shade, will now be an overwhelming memory, and at the same time be aware of the varied sub-texts that trail matches against Pakistan.

The Twenty20 match against Pakistan at the Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Tuesday night comes with the usual baggage of history and intense rivalry.

Heartening sight

Amidst these multiple layers of meaning that is a staple diet of any game involving the sub-continental rivals, it was also heartening to see the banter between Virat Kohli and Saeed Ajmal and the brief chat that Dhoni had with Umar Gul while the teams trained ahead of a contest that highlights the return of bilateral cricket between the two nations after five years.

Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu lingered in the air as pleasantries were exchanged, bats were checked before the respective players went their different ways.

Meanwhile, on the pathway leading to the National Cricket Academy, a Pakistani television channel was interviewing wicketkeeping great Syed Kirmani.

There was nostalgia and bonhomie in abundance but when the first ball is bowled on Tuesday, it will all be about a tense face-off that should whet the sporting appetites of fans on either side of the border.

Both teams are fused together by fortune’s vagaries. India is in a state of churn that is intrinsic to transition and Pakistan, plagued by lack of matches at home ever since masked gunmen made a ghastly attempt against the Sri Lankan team bus at Lahore in 2009, is slowly finding its mercurial feet.

Good past record

If history against a rival is an index for feel-good clues then India has it in abundance as it won the last face-off in 2007 (1-0 in Tests and 3-2 in ODIs) besides defeating Mohammad Hafeez’s men in the ICC World Twenty20 clash at Colombo in September.

The past, however, will not assuage Dhoni’s primary worry that will revolve around his bowling unit in which R. Ashwin and Ishant Sharma are the most experienced players.

The manner in which Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler scythed through the final overs of Parvinder Awana and Ashoke Dinda at Mumbai, has quadrupled pressure on the men in blue.

Its batsmen, notably the quartet of Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Kohli and Suresh Raina, have to flourish for Dhoni to display his muscular hits past the 15-over mark.

Limited success

Pakistan, meanwhile, has had limited success in Twenty20s this year, the exception being a 2-1 triumph over Australia in the United Arab Emirates. Hafeez needs Shahid Afridi to reclaim his all-rounder tag besides hoping that the Akmals — Kamran and Umar — along with Nasir Jamshed clatter the runs. The attack, with Ajmal and Gul in its ranks, does have bite and deception while the pitch, according to curator Narayan Raju, is tailor-made for Twenty20 and promises a 180-run fare.

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), G. Gambhir, A. Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, S. Raina, V. Kohli, R. Jadeja, R. Ashwin, A. Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, P. Awana, P. Chawla and A. Rayudu.

Pakistan: M. Hafeez (captain), N. Jamshed, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, U. Amin, S. Malik, S. Afridi, S. Ajmal, M. Irfan, Junaid Khan, S. Tanvir, U. Gul, Asad Ali, Z. Babar and Ahmed Shehzad.

Umpires: S. Ravi and Shamsuddin; Third umpire: Vineet Kulkarni; Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Match starts at 7 p.m.

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