The World Twenty20 steps up a gear today as cricket’s eight top sides enter the fray, with Pakistan seeking a historic win against India in the second round’s standout clash.
Minnows of international cricket have been slogging it out in the expanded 16-nation tournament so far, with two qualifying spots and a chance to join the big boys up for grabs from round one.
In the Super-10 stage, Asian giants Pakistan and India are to be joined in Group Two by the West Indies, Australia and one of the successful qualifiers.
The other qualifier is to join South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand in Group One, with two sides from each group advancing to the semi-finals.
The identity of the two qualifiers from round one will be known just hours before Pakistan bid to defeat archrivals India for the first time at the World Twenty20.
“We beat India in the Asia Cup this month and this team looks good to make history,” a confident Pakistani coach Moin Khan said ahead of the round-two opener in Dhaka.
“But they must express themselves freely on the field and not worry about the result,” he added.
Despite having never beaten India in the competition, Pakistan enjoy a better World T20 record than their opponents, an anomaly that will give confidence to captain Mohammad Hafeez’s side.
Pakistan have qualified for the semi-finals in all four editions, winning the tournament in 2009 in England after being runners-up in the inaugural event.
India have not made the semi-finals since taking the title in 2007, despite the popularity of the T20 Indian Premier League over the past six years.
For India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, previous results will be irrelevant when the sides take to the field at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in the Bangladeshi capital tonight.
“Nothing of the past matters in this game,” he said, reminding critics that India lost just one game at the 2012 edition and yet failed to make the knock-out rounds.
“The matches to follow are as important as the one on Friday, but we are not looking beyond our first game yet,” Dhoni said.
True to the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket, there have been different champions each time. England won in 2010 and the West Indies triumphed in 2012, adding to the victories for India and Pakistan.
Darren Sammy’s West Indies, who open the defense of their title on the back of a confidence-boosting series win against England, boast one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket — opener Chris Gayle.
Sri Lanka — the top-ranked T20 side — have prepared by spending more than six weeks in Bangladesh, winning the Asia Cup there earlier this month.
Australia, hoping to add a first World T20 title to their packed trophy cabinet, have opted for experience, bringing in 39-year-old batsman Brad Hodge and 43-year-old spinner Brad Hogg.
However, the Aussies will miss fearsome fast bowler Mitchell Johnson due to an infected toe, while England will be without the injured Joe Root and Ben Stokes.
England are also missing batsman Kevin Pietersen, who was the star of their lone title triumph four years ago.
England’s all-time leading run-scorer across all formats was controversially axed following a 5-0 series loss Down Under even though he was their highest scorer.
South Africa, starting a new era after the recent retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, and New Zealand will also be strong contenders in the wide-open tournament.