DHAKA: Sub-continental giants India and Pakistan meet in a crunch match in the Asia Cup Twenty20 tournament in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Saturday, renewing their bitter rivalry in cricket after a year.
Showdowns between the neighbours, who last played in the 50-over World Cup in Australia-New Zealand in February 2015, usually draw hundreds of millions of television viewers, making the contests the biggest box office attraction in the sport.
But diplomatic tensions have meant that the two teams have not played any series for more than three years and their rivalry is restricted to multi-national tournaments.
Pakistan, furious that India has rebuffed repeated pleas to play a series at a neutral venue, will be desperate to cause an upset against their giant neighbour.
But ahead of the match, Pakistan’s captain Shahid Afridi sounded diplomatic, saying the game could be an opportunity to improve relations between the two nations, which have fought three wars since their independence some seven decades ago.
“Sport can always develop good relationships between countries,” Afridi told reporters at Fatullah, outside Dhaka, on Friday.
“I think Pakistani people want to see the Indians in Pakistan while Indians would also like to see the Pakistanis playing over there.
“We should not give sports a political colour. We should consider the public demand and we always try to give this message.”
Afridi’s Pakistan will start as underdogs having lost five of their six previous Twenty20 internationals to India.
India came into the tournament on a string of good performances after defeating Australia and Sri Lanka in back-to-back series.
They carried their success into the Asia Cup opening match against hosts Bangladesh this week, registering a crushing 45-run win to give themselves the perfect boost before the Pakistan match.
Indian opener Rohit Sharma, who played a match-winning knock of 83 from 55 balls against Bangladesh, still chose to be cautious.
“Pakistan have a formidable bowling attack, no doubt,” he said.
“But we would want to concentrate more on our strengths and prepare our plans accordingly. Our strength is batting and depending on the wicket we will have to focus on that,” he said.
The Asia Cup, a biennial 12-day tournament, is being held in Twenty20 format for the first time in view of next month’s World Twenty20 in India.