Man for man, India have a much better team composition than Pakistan in this ICC World T20 Championship. What has evened the score, though, is India’s unexpected loss to New Zealand even as Pakistan came through their opening encounter with a hassle-free win over Bangladesh.
The results, taken together, have ensured that it is Team India rather than Pakistan who is under pressure. Hence skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men will have to approach Saturday’s match with a lot more than just a prayer on lips.
The think-tank will pore over data and video tapes of the Pakistanis and come up with specific game plan for everyone. However, certain issues need to be addressed post-haste.
1. Body language: This is the most important aspect of any India vs Pakistan clash. Having covered
umpteen India-Pakistan matches in various parts of the world, including Sharjah, I cannot overstate the importance of a positive body language. India must look, feel and radiate confidence at all times during the 40 overs of the match, even under grave pressure. The opponents will seize the moment at the first sign of weakness and turn a cheering crowd into a jeering one if the Indians do not stay positive.
2. Do not back down: Indians must not back down when the Pakistanis get in their face. And they will. For that is the nature of their game. A Gautam Gambhir-style head-to-head, toe-to-toe confrontation may be necessary, else Pakistan fast bowlers will get under the batsmen’s skin.
3. Exploit their pacemen’s temperament: Remember that Pakistan’s fast bowlers — Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan, good as they are — will be under tremendous pressure to deliver. They have fragile temperaments and could easily lose it. In T20 cricket it is not pace but what matters for a fast bowler is holding the nerve under pressure. Pakistani players are susceptible to needling and could tip over so easily.
4. Must believe in themselves: India have a top batting line-up and a good mix of bowlers. They have consistently dominated teams over the past few months and the failure against New Zealand must be seen as just an aberration. They have played good cricket right through the year and it is important that they do not allow the loss against New Zealand to drag them down. Staying positive must be THE message for the team.
5. Keep wickets in hand for the final push: The top order should look to preserve their wickets. Match after match it has been noticed that on Indian pitches the team with wickets in hand go hell for leather in the last six to eight overs. India have some really powerful hitters and hence must concentrate on seeing the new ball off at a minimum damage.
6. Target Pakistan’s batting: Skipper Shahid Afridi showed he was not a spent force in the match against Bangladesh. But he has a fragile temperament and is prone to losing it under pressure. He hits out more with hope than design. Most of the time, Afridi plonks his foot down the line and throws bat at the ball. Bowl outside the stump area for him. A couple of well-directed bouncers from Ashish Nehra or Jasprit Bumrah may do the trick.
7. Fire and Ice: Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni are fire and ice. If the ice-cool Dhoni can harness the fiery brilliance of Virat and turn it against Pakistan, we’d have a winner for sure. The arch-rivals are in awe of Kohli’s brilliance. Keeping him going in the middle would demoralise them. Dhoni must get Virat to focus all his energies in staying out in the middle through the 20 overs.
8. Every batsman must chip in: Top batsmen Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, not to mention Virat and Dhoni must ensure that they come to the match with their A game. They must be ruthless in extracting maximum from the Pakistani bowlers and fielders.
9. Come hard at Pakistan’s top order: Pakistan do not bat deep. They have the worst line-up among major teams. Hit them hard at the start with aggressive bowling and catching. Hit them with Nehra, Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin as soon as possible.
10. Make home advantage count: Most of the Pakistani players have never played in India amid the intense emotion of an India-Pak match. They will be severely tested by a hostile crowd in the Eden Gardens cauldron. India must capitalise on that. Keep the pressure on their batsmen and bowlers. The Pak fielding may fall apart if things don’t go well for them.
11. Win the toss, please: Finally, Dhoni must win the toss and bat. You do not need to bat second and put the team under additional pressure. Let the Pakistanis stew in the added pressure of a run chase where a partisan crowd of 70,000 spectators could be expected to appeal every time the ball goes past the bat or raps the pad!