Old Foes Set to Renew Rivalry

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Colombo, Sep 17 (DHNS) : ‘The world is playing,’ is inscribed on a festoon inside the Bandaranaike International Airport at this Sri Lankan capital. And the highway leading towards the city’s central business district has billboards that scream: “Twenty times the action, twenty times the cricket.”

The World Twenty20 scheduled to commence at Hambantota on Tuesday, has generated a steady buzz in these parts. The waves of excitement will only become bigger at the R Premadasa Stadium here on Monday as India and Pakistan clash in a warm-up game ahead of the tougher contests that lie in store over the next three weeks.

It might well be a practice game but when men from either side of the Wagah reveal their wares on a cricket turf, the game acquires manifold layers mounted on anxiety among the cricketers and expectations from the fans. Incidentally, after that historic night at Johannesburg way back in 2007 when India defeated Pakistan by five runs to emerge World T20’s maiden champions, the rivals have never had a face-off in the game’s shortest format over the last five years.

That the official broadcasters will be telecasting the match live speaks volumes about the high stakes involved when the two former World T20 champions meet, even if it’s an unofficial encounter. While MS Dhoni and company warmed-up for the tournament with a convincing win over Sri Lanka in their first practice match on Saturday, Pakistan are coming off a morale-boosting T20 series win over Australia in the Gulf.

Man to man India quite comfortably outweigh Pakistan, but the very nature of the game
takes that heavyweight equation out of the contest. A Shahid Afridi blinder or a miserly spell from Saeed Ajmal can decisively change the course of the game. Talking of Ajmal, this will be an ideal opportunity for Indian batsmen to sort of familiarise themselves with the bowler what with the two teams scheduled to take on each other in the Super Eight stage, assuming they both qualify from the preliminary group stages.

It would also be interesting to see whether Pakistan would ‘expose’ Ajmal to Indian batsmen, especially to the young guns, or unleash him if and when they lock horns in the tournament proper. The off-spinner did trouble India when the two sides clashed in the World Cup semifinal in Mohali last year, and the 34-year-old left the Aussie batsmen befuddled with his bag of tricks in the recent T20 series.

While the result of the match in itself may not have any bearing on the fortunes of the respective teams in the tournament, it will do a world of good to the confidence of the winning side and as such the arch-rivals will go all out to gain that psychological advantage.


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