Kolkata: Their arrival was mired in drama. Hours after he and his team touched down in Kolkata for the World T20, a statement sucked captain Shahid Afridi into a whirlwind of controversy. A mercurial Pakistan would now desperately look to bring the focus back on cricket when they take on an enigmatic Bangladesh in what promises to be an engrossing Super 10 Group 2 encounter at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.
Pakistan arrived later than planned in India owing to security concerns of the Himachal Pradesh government and managed to trigger a furore barely a day after landing here.
Captain Afridi is in the eye of a storm after stating that Pakistani players are loved more in India than their own country. Last known, he had been issued a legal notice for the comments, which have been called shameful by former captain Javed Miandad.
Amid this off-field drama, the Pakistani players will take the field on Wednesday, eyeing revenge for the humiliating loss to Bangladesh in the recent Asia Cup.
But Bangladesh would be no pushovers as they are riding high after making the final of the continental event, which was won by India eventually. Also, the team showed good form during the World T20 qualifiers to make the main draw with ease.
Bangladesh stormed into the Super 10s after beating Oman by 54 runs via D/L method in their last qualifying match in Dharamsala on Sunday.
With that win, Bangladesh joined India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia in a pool billed as ‘Group of Death’.
Left-handed opener Tamim Iqbal showed how brutal he can be when he hammered Oman bowlers to become Bangladesh’s maiden centurion in the shortest format.
Their ace allrounder Shakib Al Hasan also put up a sizzling show on his way to picking a career-best four for 25 with his tidy left-arm spin in the do-or-die game and contributed with a cameo of 17 from nine balls.
Having known the conditions here like the back of his hand, the Kolkata Knight Riders spinner would lead the attack, while Bangladesh would hope that their left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahman recovers from his side strain, which had ruled him out of the Asia Cup.
Bangladesh could not have asked for more coming into a familiar territory, Kolkata and starting the tournament-proper against a team they defeated in the Asia Cup to make the final, less than a fortnight ago.
With scores of 103 not out, 47 and 83 not out in the qualifiers, Tamim has been in devastating form and Bangladesh would hope that his opening partner Soumya Sarkar also join him in the act to give the team a good start.
Having struck a match-winning 48 against Pakistan in the Asia Cup, Soumya has cemented his place in the side.
The 2009 champions Pakistan, meanwhile, boast of arguably the most potent pace attack with the return of left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir, who has seamlessly integrated into the side after his spot-fixing ban.
With Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz, the three left-arm quickies showed what they’re capable of in the Asia Cup.
Pakistan would bank on their bowlers do the job for them as batting is not the team’s strong point. Shahid Afridi’s men have had troubles with their top-order, prompting the selectors to twice tinker with the squad.
After their group stage ouster with defeat to Bangladesh in Asia Cup, Pakistan’s preparation for the premier tournament was hampered. Moreover, the change of venue for the India-Pakistan match from Dharamsala to Kolkata due to security reasons and subsequent delay in arrival to India must have not pleased them.
Apart from the four-match Asia Cup outing in Bangladesh, Pakistan’s only other preparation for the World T20 has been the inaugural Pakistan Super League in UAE where the players featured for different franchises.
Mohammad Hafeez made a stellar 70 not out in their 15-run win over Sri Lanka in the warm-up match yesterday and Pakistan would hope that he continues with his fine form and others in Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal fire in unison.
It is perhaps the last chance for Afridi, who has come under scanner due to his lack of form on the field and comments off it, to silence the critics with his bat and also chip in with his leg-spin.
He has done it with his all-round show en-route to winning 2009 title, and he has it in him, boasting highest wickets of 93 and a terrifying strike-rate 148.92 in T20Is, to do it again. PTI
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Arafat Sunny, Mahmudullah, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Sabbir Rehman, Abu Hider, Nurul Hasan, Al-Amin Hossain, Nasir Hossain, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed, Mohammed Mithun, Mustafizur Rahman.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (c), Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Mallik, Mohammad Irfan, Sharjeel Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Khalid Latif, Mohammad Amir, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Khurram Manzoor.
Match starts 3 pm IST.