Wherever India and Pakistan face each other on a cricket field -- whatever the format or the tournament -- it captures the imagination of the populace of the subcontinent. Even though the ICC World Twenty20 kicks off today with Bangladesh taking on Afghanistan in the opening match of the first round, a lot of people in the sub-continent will be keenly following the narrative of India and Pakistan, who will face off in the first match of the Super 10 stage in Mirpur on March 21.
The head-to-head between the two sides in the World Cups -- 50-over and Twenty20 -- is heavily skewed towards India, but both teams know that records are the last thing to come to mind when they meet, it is the simmering tension and the high-stakes rivalry which dominate. So when the players of the two sides faced the media at a city hotel yesterday, most of the talk concerned the 21 March fixture which will kick off the Super 10 stage.
"More number of times there are going to be scars that you carry from a previous game. Predominantly the scars that the Indian team carry are from what they read in papers."
"T20 is all about skill. You need variation as a bowler -- whether you are a spinner or a seamer -- you need variation in batting as well to be successful in this format."
Virat Kohli: The captain-in-waiting of the Indian team feels their perfect record against Pakistan in World Cups is only for the people to ponder. The prolific batsman believes that it all depends on who performs best on the given day.
“We never look at records, it's just hyped up. We are not going there just to keep the record against Pakistan intact, we'll go out there to play well and won't get too desperate thinking about these outside factors. If we play good cricket on the day, I think we are good enough to beat any side in the world.”
Rohit Sharma: That India have got one of the best batting line-ups is augmented by the fact that skipper MS Dhoni, hard-hitter Yuvraj Singh and middle-order batsman Suresh Raina are returning to the side after a good bit of rest. India's opening batsman Rohit Sharma, who was a part of their 2007 World Twenty20 winning side along with Yuvraj and Dhoni, feels that India perform best when the odds are against them. “That was a challenging tournament in 2007 as we went as an inexperienced side. We stand in the same situation right now. In 2007 nobody expected us to win, this time this is a challenge for us and I think everyone is ready to take the challenge.”
Ravichandran Ashwin: While India's batting is their strongest forte, it is their inexperienced bowling attack which may appear a big hurdle to their dream of winning the title for a second time. Veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin will have to shoulder the burden of delivering the goods with the ball and the Chennai-born spinner knows the nature of the challenge.
“We may not have played too many T20Is, but everyone has a lot of experience of playing in the IPL and T20 cricket is the same everywhere. So there is no added pressure on us but the format and the tournament is definitely a challenge for us.”
Mohammad Hafeez: While Kohli's consistent batting gives India the platform for big scores, it is Mohammad Hafeez who delivers the goods at the top of the order for Pakistan, not to mention his exploits with the ball. The 33-year-old skipper feels it is the rivalry and the crowd's intensity which works as a motivation to do well in this fixture.
“I remember when we went to India in 2012, we didn't get applause from the crowd even when we played good shots. It rather worked as a motivation for us and (in these cases) you try more to keep the crowd silent. We always enjoy and feel excited about this when facing India.”
Umar Akmal: If there is a weak link in the Pakistan team, it has got to be behind the wicket. The immensely-talented Umar Akmal has been given the dual job of scoring quick runs as well as keeping. While his efficiency with the bat is unquestionable, it is his job behind the wicket which has often been found wanting. But Akmal thinks he can live up to the expectation of his team.
“I do wicket-keeping for my team, because my team management wants it. I do whatever is good for my teamI and I am ready to give my 100 per cent.”
Sohel Tanvir: Pakistan seamer Sohel Tanvir, whose place in the playing eleven is a remote possibility, is perhaps the most excited of the bunch about this match. The tall left-handed pacer feels the blood-boiling nature of this fixture has not waned a bit over the years., and characterised the encounter as pitting one of the best batting line-ups against one of the most potent bowling groups in world cricket.
“It's always been like this. The tension or the heated gestures that you used to see are still like that and it hasn't changed over the last 10 or 15 years. But off the field we are good friends.”