India v Pakistan
Sunday March 20, 1:00am
After contrasting fortunes in their opening fixtures, fierce rivals India and Pakistan do battle on Saturday night at the iconic Eden Gardens.
India will be hoping to bounce back after their shock opening loss to New Zealand on a dry pitch in Nagpur. After their bowlers restricted the Black Caps to a modest 7/126, their much-vaunted batting line-up could only manage a paltry 79 with all but one batsman falling to spin.
Having won 10 of their previous 11 T20Is the tournament hosts will hope that this was just an aberration but are faced with the threat of likely elimination if they go down here.
That scenario could force changes to what has been a settled side with all-rounder Hardik Pandya – who scored 1 off 7 and conceded 10 runs off his only over with the ball – in line for the chop.
If Pandya is left out then Ajinkya Rahane could be brought in to shore up the middle-order which would leave part-timers Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh to assume fifth-bowler duties. Yuvraj will also be hoping to contribute more with the bat, having averaged 23.60 at a lethargic strike-rate of 105.35 since he was recalled at the start of the year.
Pakistan put aside recent batting woes to blast 5/201 against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens on Wednesday. In reply the Tigers were never really in the hunt as Pakistan’s highly-accomplished attack left them 55 runs short with Shahid Afridi backing up his ballistic 49 off 19 balls with two key wickets.
The platform for Afridi’s onslaught was provided by half-centuries to Ahmed Shehzad (52 off 39) and Mohammad Hafeez (64 off 42) in a welcome return to form for both top-order players. With the ball, while only one Bangladesh bowler conceded less than eight an over, all six Pakistan bowlers managed to stay under that with spinners Afridi, Shoiab Mailk and Imad Wasim proving particularly difficult to get away.
This was the first time that Pakistan have surpassed 200 since way back in 2008 and having finally settled on their best XI they look a dangerous prospect with a win here catapulting them to within reach of a fifth semi-finals appearance.
Pakistan’s win over Bangladesh was only the second ever T20I at Eden Gardens, with the first coming back in 2011. Therefore it’s more prudent to look at recent IPL matches where the average first innings score was a slightly more sedate 6/176 with five out of seven landing between 165 and 177. It’s also worth noting that home side Kolkata leant heavily on spin with Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan, Piyush Chawla, Brad Hogg and Johan Botha all being called on at various times throughout the competition.
- India have lost four of their past six T20Is at home.
- India have won five of their past six matches against Pakistan across all formats and only lost one of seven T20Is against Pakistan.
- Eight of India’s last nine games have seen total sixes of nine or less.
- Wednesday’s win was the first time Pakistan have won consecutive T20Is since successive wins over Zimbabwe back in September.
- Pakistan have won 12 out of 16 games in World T20 tournaments when batting first.
The market has not lost faith in India, marking them as clear favourites for this one with Pakistan firm outsiders despite their convincing win over Bangladesh.
Consistency has never been Pakistan’s strength and while they appear to be much better suited batting first, it’s particularly hard to have sufficient faith in their erratic batting, despite coming off a score of 200 in their last game. However nor can we really have conviction in India’s batting after they were routed for just 79 by the Black Caps and they now face an arguably stronger attack. Therefore I suggest we give the match odds a swerve in this one and concentrate on another market.
While crowds in the IPL are often wowed by big hitting and balls flying over the ropes, at international level the Indian side has neither scored, nor conceded many sixes of late. In India’s last nine T20Is only one match has seen more than nine sixes and even that match just scraped over with ten. Over those nine games the average number of sixes has been just 5.2.
Similarly with a strong bowling attack and fragile batting unit, Pakistan has only seen more than nine sixes in two out of their past six T20Is. Furthermore the last time these sides met not one ball cleared the boundary and in the seven meetings between them at international T20 level only twice have more than nine sixes been hit.
Last of all while Pakistan’s recent match against Bangladesh at Kolkata produced 12 sixes, Eden Gardens is one of the bigger Indian grounds and hence one of the harder ones to regularly clear the ropes. With all that in mind I’m backing nine or less sixes to be hit on Saturday night.