Wasim Akram

Monday’s warm-up game between India and Pakistan has set up the ICC World Twenty20 perfectly. There was a decent crowd at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium and a high-scoring match was the perfect entertainment for the fans. Pakistan’s run-chase and their ability to handle the pressure against a talented Indian team will give Mohammed Hafeez’s team a great deal of confidence going into the championship.

No matter what the status of the game is, no Indian captain wants to lose a match against Pakistan. Every India versus Pakistan contest is emotionally supercharged and hence the high fives in the Pakistan dug-out on Monday were expected. It was good to see the players in great spirits and the younger ones exchanging pleasantries after the game.

The match against Pakistan will force MS Dhoni to mull over his first XI. While it’s always a horses-for-courses policy, deciding the playing XI will always be a tough call. For a 20-20 game, India have several ‘all-rounders’ and that will enable Dhoni pick four specialist bowlers and seven batsmen. The fact that Sehwag, Raina, Yuvraj and Kohli are decent bowlers is a great bonus for Team India.

Zaheer’s fitness looked suspect. He didn’t look sharp enough and probably his energy levels were not up to the mark. I know Sri Lankan conditions are extremely demanding, but if Zaheer has to lead India’s attack, he has to be at the peak of his fitness. Dhoni’s selection worries, I would imagine, will be around his senior players like Zaheer, Harbhajan and Irfan Pathan. He may have had an off day in the practice match on Monday, but I would always play Pathan because he is the perfect all-rounder for a T20 game.

It was great to see Yuvraj Singh back in the field. I saw his quickfire 34 off 26 balls against the Kiwis in Chennai. Typically, Yuvraj connected a few lusty blows but his timing has to get sweeter. The fact he is back to international cricket is only due to the Almighty’s blessings and I am sure everyone’s going to watch him closely in Sri Lanka.

It’s too hazardous to pick favourites in a T20 competition. The complexion of matches can change like a chameleon. While India remain strong contenders because of their batting depth, Pakistan’s bowling strength makes them equally strong. There is no doubt Pakistan have the best attack in the world. Saeed Ajmal will be the man to watch out and Shahid Afridi remains the quintessential partnership breaker with wickets at crucial junctures.

If Afridi has to play in the Pakistan team, he can only do so as a bowler. His experience in tight situations can be effective and his flatter leg-spins are tough to hit. I can’t see Afridi blossom as a batsman. His vulnerability was exposed on Monday. Slam-bang cricket at No. 5 is not always a great idea. I would like to see Shoaib Malik bat at No. 5. More than scoring a crucial 37 off 18 balls, it was his assuredness and composure that stood out in a pressure situation. Malik’s presence actually helped Kamran Akmal play that decisive 92 off 50 balls.

After India and Pakistan, in my reckoning, two from among England, the West Indies and South Africa will complete the last four. Sri Lanka have little chance with a weak middle-order and over-dependence on Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. No team has ever won the T20 World Cup as hosts. I think the trend will continue.

–Courtesy ESPN-Star