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March 15, 2014
India's victory over Pakistan in the inaugural World T20 seven years ago changed the face of cricket, igniting the interest that led to the success of the IPL and creation of sundry other T20 leagues. In the most volatile of formats, the most volatile of rivals will kick off the Super 10 stage of this tournament on Friday, a fixture that is eagerly anticipated the world over, not least in Bangladesh. Unsurprisingly, the subject dominated Pakistan's arrival in Dhaka.
Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's captain in the shortest format, politely refrained from amping up the pressure, saying it was a game his players should enjoy. Sohail Tanvir went even further with the entente cordial, describing India as having "the strongest batting line-up". Pakistan, who swept India aside in dramatic fashion two weeks ago on the way to the final of the Asia Cup, are obviously at ease with themselves.
"I always say that an India-Pakistan match is full of pressure but you enjoy playing it," Hafeez said. "As a captain I am happy that it's the first match and if you do well in such an opening match you obviously feel much easier in upcoming matches as far as pressure is concerned. Obviously you can't take any team with lighter hands but in an India match, we would want to start off doing well."
Although Pakistan have only beaten India once in five T20s, the memory of their Asia Cup win is still fresh - even if their hero on the night, Shahid Afridi, has not travelled with the team to Bangladesh. Hafeez said that Afridi, now something of an ageing rockstar within a rejuvenated team, had been given extra time to improve his fitness and would join the squad on Monday.
India were missing a talisman of their own during the defeat in Dhaka but Hafeez played down the significance of MS Dhoni's return from a period of rest. Pakistan are the most successful side in the World T20's short history - having lifted the trophy once, to go alongside two semi-finals and the 2007 final - but India could end the tournament in possession of all three global ICC titles. Never mind the history, it is a heady mix.
"We beat India in the Asia Cup and with the exception of any individual it doesn't make any difference," Hafeez said. "But, yes, I understand that there are some key players that can make a difference and Dhoni's leadership has been good in last four, five years. But for us it's not a talking point that he wasn't there and now he is here to lead India. What we need is to play well whoever is our opponent and that is the most important thing.
"The element of pressure is actually a factor of motivation. It is always an extreme pleasure with the crowd response and we always enjoy playing against India and for the upcoming match we are very excited."
Eleven of Pakistan's T20 squad took part in the Asia Cup, with the form of Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Saeed Ajmal particularly impressive, alongside that of Afridi. Pakistan have a reputation for unpredictability but their current form, under new coach, Moin Khan, bodes well. "Momentum in any tournament plays an important role and with sort of cricket we have played in Asia Cup, we have got that momentum," Hafeez said.
Tanvir is one of the T20 specialists added to the side and he has a rare perspective on Pakistan's relationship with India. He made his debut against India at the 2007 tournament, as well as played in the final, and he is one of the few Pakistan players to have experienced playing in the IPL, with Rajasthan Royals, before they were shut out.
"It's been always like this," Tanvir said of the tempestuous nature of Pakistan-India fixtures. "With the inclusion of Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj, India are I think the strongest batting line-up. But then again, it's not a game of big names, it depends on how you perform on a given day.
"I have played with a lot of Indian players. I shared a dressing room with Ashwin and Yuvi. They are good friends off the field. The tension or the hot gestures that you used to see are still like that, it hasn't changed over the last 10-15 years, but off the field we are good friends." In a few days, those friends will become enemies again.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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