Kolkata—Shahid Afridi and MS Dhoni’s men will take on each other today in the most talked about encounter of the World T20 —– the marquee clash at Eden Gardens, here.
Both teams started the World T20 campaign on a converse note as expected: India lost their first match against New Zealand, while Pakistan beat Bangladesh comprehensively in their campaign opener.
The Pakistan-India match made headlines before it was even played when Pakistan requested the International Cricket Council to change the venue from Dharamsala after a three-member delegation reported that it was not safe for the visiting team. After moving to Kolkata, the threats by Anti-Terrorist Front of India and ex-servicemen to dig the pitch also caused uproar in the media.
A loss at the hands of Pakistan will mean that India will be well out of the World T20 semi-finals contention. Meanwhile, Pakistan will still have a chance to find a place among the top two Group 1 spots if they could slay Australia and New Zealand in their remaining Super10s matches.
The forecast for Saturday’s match predicts isolated thunderstorms at Eden Gardens. According to weather.com, there is a 30% chance of rain with 84% humidity in the air during the latter half of the day – the time when the match will start at 7pm PST. In case of an abandoned match due to rain, India and Pakistan will share one point each and that may well cause the departure of MS Dhoni’s men from the World T20.
It’s one of the world’s fiercest sporting rivalries and previous showdowns have taken place while the countries have been at war, or used as an icebreaker between frosty leaders.
But when India and Pakistan face off in cricket’s World Twenty20, love will be in the air amid a determination to ensure Saturday’s game soothes rather than stokes tensions.
While there’s no shortage of patriotic fervour, a recent Facebook craze has seen thousands of fans posting profile pictures framed by the sporting emblems of their rivals.
After being garlanded on his arrival in Kolkata, Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi has spoken of the “love” he receives from Indian fans.
The leading classical singer Shafqat Amanat Ali is set to serenade a packed house at Edens Gardens with Pakistan’s national anthem, before Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan belts out the rival Indian number.
Tensions have prevented the two sides from playing each other in Tests for more than a decade, and the match is only happening because the World T20 is an International Cricket Council tournament.
Eden Gardens is one of the world’s biggest grounds, even after a recent refit which reduced capacity to 66,000.
Subrata Nag, a college student, said the home crowd wanted an Indian victory but would be gracious in defeat.
“Eden Gardens has a history of supporting the team which performs better. We want India to win, but we will support Pakistan team if it plays well,” Nag told AFP.
But Pakistani bowling legend Wasim Akram, said, “It’s a whole lot of fun. I think not just the teams but the supporters of the two countries do enjoy the clash wholeheartedly.”
“It s a festival, people get together at dinner parties… It’s a mega-event that everybody gets involved in.” Former Indian international Arshad Ayub said the match was always a little bit special.
“The game brings with it a lot of emotions, excitement and I just hope we have a really good game,” said Ayub, India’s manager at the 2015 World Cup when the teams faced off in Australia. The match is expected to be watched by hundreds of millions of television viewers.—Agencies