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India take on arch-rivals Pakistan in battle of equals

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (R)

The last time India and Pakistan were involved in a bilateral cricket series, the IPL was yet to take place, MS Dhoni was still finding his feet as a captain, Harbhajan Singh was India’s best limited overs bowler, Saeed Ajmal hadn’t made his international debut and Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were Pakistan’s most consistent performers. Five years of strained cricketing relations and lot has changed for both the teams during this period.

One should thank heavens, or for that matter the England cricket team – who left for home during the Christmas and New Year holidays – allowing the BCCI to be able to squeeze in a two-T20 match and three-ODI match series against arch-rivals Pakistan, which meant that fans from both the nations would once again be able to witness these two teams in a bilateral series after a hiatus of 5 years. This will the first bilateral series between these two nations and Pakistan’s first tour to India (the last one being in 2007) since the horrendous terrors attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

The two teams begin the T20 series with the first game at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium at Bangalore. Although the game at Bangalore will the first time India plays host to Pakistan in a T20 match, the two teams have been playing each other at multi-nation tournaments. In their three meetings, it is India who hold the upper-hand with them winning two out the three games whereas one game at Durban ended in a tie. Their most recent meeting was in September this year at Colombo during the World Twenty20 where India sailed to a comfortable victory.

Although history favours India, it would make little meaning if Indian bowlers bowl the way they did against England at Mumbai. Barring Yuvraj Singh, who has been India’s stand-out T20 bowler in recent times, none of the bowlers have looked upto the mark. While R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla were unable to take wickets against England, the young pace attack of Ashok Dinda and Parwinder Awana leaked runs by bowling inconsistent lines. The batting for India, as usual, looks in good stead. All the batsmen except Ajinkya Rahane were among runs during the two match T20 series against England.

Pakistan last played a T20 match at the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka. The Mohammad Hafeez-led side looks a balanced unit, with a combination of both youth and experience. The batting looks dangerous, with the likes Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik at the top of the order, whereas the bowling comprises of T20 specialists like Sohail Tanveer, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal. The squad also includes a 7-foot tall pacer Mohammad Irfan, who can surprise the Indians with his pace and bounce.

Overall, both sides look balanced on paper. It would be interesting to see how the Indian batsmen tackle the experienced Pakistan bowling line-up.

Players to watch out for:

Pakistan v India - ICC World Twenty20 2012: Super Eights Group 2

If Virat Kohli can replicate the kind of form he showed during his 20 ball cameo in Mumbai, then the Pakistan bowlers could be in for a mauling. His seven boundaries during a knock of 38 were a treat to the eye, and the onus will be on him to score heavy on a batting friendly Bangalore wicket. Also, his knock of 183 during the Asia Cup earlier this year would still be fresh in the memories of the Pakistan bowlers, and they will be hoping to get rid off him early.

In a format dominated by batsman, a bowler who gives a run per ball is surely a match winner. Saeed Ajmal is one such bowler. He is the primary reason for Pakistan’s great record in ICC World T20s. He still possesses quite a few tricks up his sleeve and will be looking to unearth them on the Indian batsman.

Last five games: (most recent first)

India LWWWL
Pakistan LWLWW

Teams:

India (probable): Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni (c & wk), R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla/Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana

Pakistan (probable): Mohammad Hafeez (c), Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wk), Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanveer, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan.

Trivia:

- India will jump to no. 2 in the ICC T20 rankings if they win both the T20 games against Pakistan.

- This will be Pakistan’s fourth bilateral series in India. They have won two and lost two.

Time: 19:00 IST (1330 GMT)

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