Before the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 began, all the pressure was firmly on Pakistan. It had never ever beaten India in a World Cup game (which it still hasn't). It is astounding to think that this encompasses six ODIs - where the closest match was us beating them by a good 29 runs - and 4 international T20s.
It's a perfect 10/10 for India with us having beaten Pakistan in the finals, semi-finals, quarter-finals, open league format, super 6s, super 8s and all manner of groups. To make matters worse Pakistan has beaten India in only one T20 international in its entire career.
The current T20 form also favoured India. In 2016, we thrashed Australia 3-0, beat Sri Lanka 2-1 and won the Asia Cup without dropping a single match. In all we won 10/11 of our last international T20s to become No. 1 in the ICC rankings.
Pakistan, on the other hand, couldn't even make it to the final of the Asia Cup and before that lost both the T20 series against New Zealand and England.
Pakistan must have dreaded coming into the same group as India. While we were supposed to have a comfortable first game against New Zealand (we were the favourites, said the pundits), Pakistan played a plucky and tricky Bangladesh who had beaten them as recently in the Asia Cup.
Such was the situation at the beginning of the World Cup.
But then as they say, there's many a slip between the (World) cup and the lip. A lot can change in a day. Make that 20 hours!
At about 10:45pm on March 15, India crashed to 79 against New Zealand, our second lowest score in international T20s. At about 6:45pm on March 16, Pakistan thrashed Bangladesh by 55 runs after setting them a formidable target of 202.
Suddenly, the India-Pakistan equation changed dramatically.
|New Zealand spinners annihilated India.|
Now here's the thing: It's not a question of victory and defeat, but the sheer margins of both matches. While expectedly, Pakistan went ahead on the points table, the net run rate of both the teams offers a stark contrast:
Pakistan: +2.75 | India: -2.35.
The difference between the two is a whopping 5+. For anyone following cricket they will know that this is a huge margin. We have just three matches left in the group stage and must win all of them for the simple reason that a 20-over match is not much to play with to improve the net run rate and we need to secure all the points.
Now all the pressure is suddenly on India. If we lose, then we are virtually knocked out of the tournament.
If Pakistan suffers a loss, then they can still take it and qualify on the basis of their remaining matches. Even a narrow loss will suit them from the point of view of net run rate. This is different from a quarter or semi-final where both teams can be eliminated. Pakistan is in a position to kick India out and not the other way round.
There are many other factors that will go against us. For the past couple of years India has suddenly become very suspect against new spinners or those they haven't played for some time.
While we saw off the legends Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan in style till the 2000s, we got totally unstuck against Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in the 2012 England Test series. Since then we have been troubled by the likes of Moeen Ali, Nathan Lyon and many others.
A troika of New Zealand spinners annihilated India: Mitchell Santner 4-11, Ish Sodhi 3-18 and Nathan McCullum 2-15. Ouch! That sounds like a massacre. It's like we just can't play spin at all.
Sometimes in a long tournament a team gets exposed towards the end and still manages somehow. But you certainly don't want that to happen in your very first match.
The Pakistanis are totally comfortable in Indian conditions and pitches and know how to exploit them. In fact about half the Pakistani squad consists of full-time or part time spinners: Shahid Afridi, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Khalid Latif, Mohammad Nawaz and Sharjeel Khan.
Pakistan always has a pace attack that performs and depending on the Eden Gardens pitch, they can come out with a combination that will really trouble the Indian batsmen. Our batsmen are used to big wins and when the top order collapses, so does the rest of the team most of the time. We are suddenly looking very vulnerable.
The Pakistani batsmen have already got runs on the board in the Bangladesh match: Hafeez scored 64, Shehzad with 52 and the dangerous Afridi hit 49. If you are as good as your last match then the Pakistani bowlers and batsmen are really looking good. Afridi will also fancy his chances in his battle with MS Dhoni. While Dhoni won the 2007 edition in style, he failed to make it to the semis three times in a row and we choked in the 2014 final.
Afridi has the highest strike rate in World T20s at a formidable 156 next to Dhoni's 121. He will be in a better frame of mind than Dhoni due to his performance in the Bangladesh match: he hit a blistering 49 off 19 and also took a couple of wickets.
You can be sure that Pakistan will come all guns blazing in their match with India.
So Shahid "Gabbar Singh" Afridi could well say to his team mates before the match, "Loha garam hai, maar do hathoda".
It remains to be seen whether our Veeru (Dhoni) and Jai (Virat Kohli) can get us out of this mess when the India-Pak Sholay resumes on March 19 at Eden Gardens. This is Pakistan's "now or never" chance to finally break the jinx. If they do it then they will have one foot in the semi-final and face future World Cup matches with India without fear.
If India wins then they would have done a Houdini act to reclaim their favourites tag and win 11/11 World Cup matches with Pakistan as our arch enemy would face the impossible in future World Cup clashes.