Intensity, but not acrimony - Dhoni
India and Pakistan will kick off the Super 10 stage of the World T20 on Friday with a night game in Mirpur. Less than three weeks ago, at the same ground, they produced a thriller in the Asia Cup, a game that was decided by Shahid Afridi's successive sixes in the last over with last man Junaid Khan for company. MS Dhoni said the two sides continued to give their fans spirited contests but felt that the acrimony of the past, which he had seen while growing up, had gone down in recent years.
"The intensity is there of course. It is something that you cannot really take away from the game irrespective of which opposition you are playing," Dhoni said. "India-Pakistan matches always capture the imagination of people from either side. I feel it has mellowed down to some extent, whatever the reason maybe, you do not see many altercations on the field. But still you see very competitive cricket which I feel is very important.
"Growing up, I used to watch some of the last-generation people when they were playing cricket, it used to get quite tense. There were plenty of things happening apart from cricket on the field. We used to enjoy it as kids. I am glad that it doesn't really happen anymore because when you talk about promoting cricket and promoting in the right ways, I think more often than not it is played in the right spirit."
India have never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup or World T20, but Dhoni did not believe that would have any bearing on Friday's encounter. "A lot of people talk about it but what is important is what kind of cricket you are playing on that particular day. All the teams that are participating, they have got a fantastic side. What this format does is, the difference between the best sides and the not-so-good sides is very narrow. Even the [teams] who qualify, you see they have also got the talent to upset some of the big sides, which means we have to play good cricket and that is what it is all about. It is not really about the stats or what you have achieved in the past."
Dhoni also did not want India to focus too much on the Pakistan players individually, but on the opposition side as a whole. However, he praised the skills of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal. "If you see Gul he has been a fantastic bowler for them. I still remember the 2007 World T20. He was someone who would start bowling from the 11th-12th over and continue till the death overs. So he has been someone who has been very consistent for them. It is not only him, there are other bowlers also who are quite dangerous.
"Ajmal is a very good bowler. It is not as if he is dangerous against one particular nation. I think overall he is still a bowler against whom you cannot score freely. And the way Pakistan use him, they make sure you try to go for runs against him if he bowls in the slog overs or in the first six overs... He is still dangerous not only against us but if you see all the international teams, they have had difficulty on an average in scoring freely against him.
"At the same time, they have got a batting line-up which has scored very freely. We will be planning about the whole team, not about the individuals."
When asked about the presence of allrounders in the Pakistan side, such as Hafeez and Afridi, Dhoni said some teams were "blessed" to have players with dual skills. "The more allrounders you have, the more difficult it becomes for the opposition. The reason being, if you have players who can bat and bowl, and if they are proper allrounders - they may be spinning or fast-bowling allrounders - they add to the strength of the team. You have the option of playing with more than five bowlers if you want to, and still have the same batting and bowling strength. It always adds on. I feel some of the sides are blessed when it comes to having allrounders."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo