India-Pakistan 'bigger than the Ashes', says Ashwin
Ravichandran Ashwin has hyped up India's much-anticipated World Twenty20 meeting with Pakistan, claiming the fixture is the biggest in world cricket.
The two nations have enjoyed a fierce rivalry down the years and Saturday's game was moved to Eden Gardens from Dharamsala due to security fears, with the Pakistan Cricket Board initially delaying the team's departure until they received written assurances from the Indian government.
Once they touched down, however, Pakistan made a flying start to the Super 10 phase, romping to a 55-run victory over Bangladesh inspired by the all-round performance of captain Shahid Afridi.
The skipper made 49 from 19 balls with the bat, before returning 2-27 as they got their Group Two campaign off to an impressive beginning.
India, by contrast, opened the Super 10 phase of the tournament with a dismal showing against New Zealand. Chasing a moderate 127 to win - albeit on a turning wicket - the hosts were undone by the Black Caps' spinners in crumbling to 79 all out.
A second defeat would leave India with a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for the semi-finals on home soil, and Ashwin is under no illusions as to the importance of Saturday's game.
"This rivalry is huge, it's hard to say how huge it is. It's probably bigger than the Ashes," he said. "As far as the Indians and Pakistanis go, I don't think they watch this game as a game of cricket.
"It's more of a border rivalry. They want to get one up on each other. There's much more rather than this game taking centre stage. As far as people are concerned, they put their emotions into the game. For the players, it's all about keeping their emotions aside and trying to play the best way we can."
AFRIDI IRKS MIANDAD
Skipper Afridi caused controversy upon his arrival, claiming he receives more love in India than in his home nation. And those remarks did not go down well with Pakistan legend Javed Mianded.
"I want to ask, in just two days, what did he find in India that he hasn't found in Pakistan?" Miandad said. "Our nation is our mother, my identity comes from my motherland, so I didn't agree with his statement. We also admire Indian players. When they come here [Pakistan], they are loved and respected by everybody. But my problem is with Shahid Afridi's statement that he found more love in India than Pakistan."
ASHWIN NOT FEELING THE PRESSURE
Despite the enormity of the game, Ashwin says the weight of expectation is something he and his team-mates have become accustomed to.
"We don't sit together and cram a lot of stuff into each others' head," he said. "That will eventually lead to a lot of confusion. Everybody has different plans. As for me, I plan a lot and that has given me success in the past. We just take it as easy as possible. As far as the Pakistan game is concerned, we will take it lightly. We are used to playing a lot of India-Pakistan games. Every game that India plays is a pressure game. We are pretty much used to it."
WILL THE PITCH PROVE A FACTOR?
India were undone by a sharply turning wicket in Nagpur against New Zealand. Pakistan enjoyed their outing at Eden Gardens on Wednesday, racking up 201-5 in their 20 overs, while the other game to be held at this venue saw Sri Lanka make light work of chasing down 154 to beat Afghanistan. Will a pacier wicket suit Pakistan's left-arm seam trio of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz, or will India's bright new prospect Jasprit Bumrah make the most of friendlier conditions?
KEY OPTA STATS
- India have only lost one of their seven T20I matches played against Pakistan (T1 W5).
- India have a losing record in their own country as it stands; claiming victory in seven but losing the other nine of the 16 previous T20Is played in India.
- Virat Kohli has managed to record a batting average of 66.3 in T20Is versus Pakistan across his five previous innings; only Kevin Pietersen (69.6, eight innings) has ever registered a better rate against them (4+ innings).
- Shahid Afridi is just five wickets shy of reaching 100 in T20 Internationals; he will be the first bowler to manage this feat.