The Mauka Man is daring to believe again. The stars all seem to be aligning. Pakistan’s clash with India was moved at the last moment to Kolkata, a venue where Shahid Afridi’s team have enjoyed much success. After months of under-performance, Pakistan’s much-maligned batting line-up were the heroes of their comprehensive opening victory against Bangladesh in the World Twenty20 opener on Wednesday, just a day after favourites India were swept aside by a spirited New Zealand team. And in more good news for Pakistani fans, their talisman captain Shahid Afridi picked the best possible moment to get back into form, coming up trumps with both bat and ball against Bangladesh.
In global tournaments – both 50-over or 20-over editions – India have clearly had the upper hand. The score reads 6-0 in all India-Pakistan clashes at the World Cup and 4-0 at the World Twenty20. But Pakistan have every reason to believe that this is probably their best chance to put an end to India’s domination.
1. India’s poor record at Eden Gardens
Much is being made of Pakistan’s impressive record in One Day International cricket in Kolkata. The Men in Green have won all the four matches they have played in Kolkata. In fact, Pakistan’s record in Kolkata in all three versions of the game makes for remarkable reading – only one loss to India in 11 games at the venue.
But the other reason why Shahid Afridi will be so hopeful is that India’s recent record at Kolkata has been quite spotty. They have lost five out of the last ten ODIs they have played at the Eden. India were defeated in their only Twenty20 at the venue, against England in 2011.
2. The Terminator and the Professor
In an inexperienced batting unit, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez are two of Pakistan’s coolest heads. Nicknamed “Terminator” and “Professor” respectively, Pakistan will be banking on these two veterans to deliver mainly because of their stellar record against India.
Malik averages close to 50 against India, vastly higher than his overall batting average of 34.43. His highest score of 143 came against India in Colombo in 2004 and four of his eight career hundreds have come against Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men.
Hafeez’s figures are similar. He has feasted on the Indian bowling attack as an average of 44 indicates. And he also loves the ground – the last time he played in Kolkata in 2013, he smashed a quickfire 76 off just 74 balls getting Pakistan off to a winning start.
3. Ashish Nehra could be India’s man
The lanky left-arm paceman often slips under the radar but Ashish Nehra has been integral to India’s recent success in the Twenty20 format. And going by his recent performances against them, he will be raring to go at Pakistan.
In his last ten ODIs against Pakistan, Nehra has picked up ten wickets at a strike rate of just 25.2. The economy rate is a little on the higher side at 5.6 runs per over, but the 36-year-old is an expert when it comes to taking out Pakistan’s batsmen, even if he goes for a few runs.
4. Boom Boom’s last stand
No one can associate Shahid Afridi with consistency, but even by his standards, “Boom Boom’s” numbers over the last year in Twenty20 cricket make for dismal reading. He averages only 14 with the bat and 22 with the ball, and has crossed 40 only twice in the last 18 games.
But there could yet be a twist in the tale. Afridi loves the big stage and has often reserved his best performances for the World Twenty20. He was instrumental in Pakistan’s title-winning run in the 2009 edition and his bowling average is an impressive 22.64 in the World Twenty20. India should be wary – as his performance against Bangladesh in Pakistan’s inaugural game showed, he may just be warming up for one last stand in international colours before his possible retirement.