India, Pakistan renew rivalry at 2014 World Twenty20
Fans have short memory when the context is India vs Pakistan. The sky may have lit up on the Indian side of the border in all three previous World Twenty20 meetings so far between the two nations, but fresh in the memory will be who inflicted the last wound.
An Indo-Pak battle is a showpiece event in every arena; and on the cricket field, in the subcontinent, it gains monumental proportions. Friday, the third Jumma of March 2014, will be one such day.
There were times, during the early '80s and '90s, when Indian public resigned to a defeat if a match against Pakistan fell on a Jumma (Friday prayers in the mosque), especially since Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma for a last-ball six to win an ODI in Sharjah.
But the clock ticked along, and India have come a fair distance since then. The Sourav Ganguly era vacuumed all fear out of Indian minds and Dhoni carried the legacy forward, keeping India's unbeaten record in all World Cups nicely guarded.
In as many as eight attempts - five times in 50-over World Cup and thrice in World Twenty20 - Pakistan have failed to breach the Indian fortress.
But Shahid Afridi's assault against R Ashwin on March 2 opened the wound Miandad had inflicted in 1986. Afridi's boom-boom won Pakistan the Asia Cup game in the last over by just one wicket, and it's that memory fans will carry to Mirpur on Sunday - Indians looking for revenge, Pakistanis to cause further misery.
A welcome change for India since the Asia Cup loss will be the return of MS Dhoni, who sat out the tournament due to an injury. He will be back to captain the side that has Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina back as well for a format that suits them the best.
But Pakistan skipper Mohammad Hafeez, nicknamed 'Professor' by his team-mates, doesn't read much into that. "The absence of any one individual or his return to the side doesn't make that much difference," Hafeez said during a media conference in Dhaka.
"Yes, MS Dhoni's leadership and return is a key factor as he has done well, but we won't enter the game with the mindset that we won in the Asia Cup because he was not there," Hafeez added.
Dhoni's counterpart is right in the larger perspective. But in an Indo-Pak game, small match-ups grow into a combat. For instance, Ashwin will look to settle scores with Afridi and Umar Gul will be after Virat Kohli's number, while Dhoni will look to unsettle Saeed Ajmal.
On that note, some view it as the traditional Indian batting vs Pakistani bowling contest.
Led by the wily Saeed Ajmal with the nagging Afridi on his side and buoyed by the return of Umar Gul, Pakistan bowling can test the best and certainly has an edge. On the other hand, India have names like Kohli, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma who can clear the ropes regularly.
While most positions look settled in the Indian line-up, it's likely that Ajinkya Rahane replaces the out-of-form Rohit as Dhawan's opening partner, on the premise that Rohit can bat equally well in the middle order - as he has done for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL.
It's the bowling that India aren't much confident about. Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been up and down, while Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra are second compared to Ajmal and Afridi's spinning talents.
The match will also kick-off the business end of the tournament - the Super 10 stage, where two teams (most likely Bangladesh and Ireland) from the qualifying stage will join the top eight Test nations.
India and Pakistan are in Group 2 of the Super 10, clubbed with the defending champions West Indies, a hungry Australia and one of the two qualifiers. So the archrivals will have to be aware of the threats breathing down their neck, making the group dangerous enough to allow net run rate to decide one or both of the semi-finalists.
But that worry can be kept for later than the blockbuster on March 21.
India warm-up results:
Match 1: Lost to SL by 5 runs
Match 2: Beat England by 20 runs
Pakistan warm-up results:
Match 1: Beat New Zealand by 7 wickets
Match 2: Lost to South Africa by 8 wickets