World T20 preview: Forget history, India-Pakistan showdown is about here and now

India will be under plenty of pressure following their defeat to New Zealand and have to beat Pakistan, whose recent form has been up and down, writes Osman Samiuddin from Kolkata.

The temptation ahead of any India-Pakistan match but especially one in a global event is to be drawn into the big picture.

You know it yourselves. Right now, your timelines will be flooded by big picture pieces: the wars, the peace (tentatively the latter is in singular), the politics, partition, the history of this rivalry, Pakistan’s record at world events against India, Pakistan’s record at this venue.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) buys into it. On Saturday, ahead of the game at Eden Gardens, they have planned what sounds suspiciously like the opening ceremony this tournament never had.

Amitabh Bachchan will be singing the Indian national anthem. Shafqat Amanat Ali will do likewise for Pakistan. Four past captains from each side, including Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram will be honoured in a ceremony before the start.

That this is all going down in Kolkata is especially apposite, because to be in Kolkata and especially central Kolkata is to be quite overwhelmed by its historicity.

It is one giant heritage city, old, beautiful buildings and monuments dotting it proudly, unaware that time is supposed to ravage us all. Grand old Eden Gardens stands happily within it, established by some accounts, as long ago as 1864.

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But to get drawn into all this, especially looking ahead to Saturday’s game, is folly. Every India-Pakistan contest, like most other sporting contests, is hostage to its immediate context.

Except this time, even within that, take note that there is immediate and there is immediate. India’s huge opening loss to New Zealand was one blip in a long, recent pattern of Twenty20 excellence. Pakistan’s big opening win against Bangladesh was one high in a long, recent pattern of Twenty20 mediocrity. The only question is, which will weigh heavier on Saturday?

India, as Ravichandran Ashwin pointed out, cannot avoid arriving under some pressure, not that of playing Pakistan but of an 0-1 record in a tournament that could last just four games.

“We’re used to playing a lot of India-Pakistan games and every game India plays is a lot of pressure. So we’re used to it, it’s not about the pressure, we are used to handling it.

“But a game like this, more than who we are playing, it is the World Twenty20 and we have almost put ourselves in the position where we have to win every game from here so that is more important and pertinent.”

Whatever the source of that pressure, you can be sure Waqar Younis will be doing his utmost to drive that point home to his team. Pakistan in recent times have approached matches against India as India once did against Pakistan. Right now might be the first time in years they do so, if not with the bluster they once did, but with a little more strut than before.

“We are confident, probably more this time, because they can go out of the tournament [if they lose],” Waqar said. “They will be under a lot of pressure, we have to take this positively. Our history [against them] is not great but history changes.”

POLL: Who will win India-Pakistan World T20 showdown?

Still, Pakistan will do well to be wary of Ashwin, not only as a wicket-taking threat, but as one of the bowlers they might struggle to really get after. Is it expecting too much for their top order to again be as ebullient as it was against Bangladesh? Can India’s top order see out the threat of Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Irfan?

These, and many more such, are the kind of questions that will decide the fate of this game, nothing else.

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