Dhaka: The World Twenty20 steps up a gear on Friday as cricket’s top eight 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, 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 will be joined in Group Two by the West Indies, Australia and one of the successful qualifiers.
The other qualifier will 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 arch rivals India for the first time at the World Twenty20.
Pakistan qualified for the semi-finals in all four editions of the World Twenty20, winning the tournament in 2009 in England after being runners-up to India in the inaugural event in 2007.
India, however, have not made the semi-finals since their title win despite the popularity of the T20 Indian Premier League over the last six years.
For Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, previous results will be irrelevant when the teams take to the field at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in the Bangladeshi capital on Friday evening.
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 defence of their title on the back of a confidence-boosting T20 series win against England, boast one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket — opener Chris Gayle.
All-rounder Dwayne Bravo says defending champions West Indies would not get carried away by their streak of wins leading into the World T20 in Bangladesh.
The West Indies registered convincing wins over Sri Lanka on Wednesday and England on Tuesday, in warm-up matches, as they prepare for the tournament that begins in earnest this weekend.
Bravo says his team is eager to successfully defend the title, which he believes is possible based on current form.
“We come here to defend our title. We are not going to get too ahead of our self or get arrogant about it,” said Bravo on Wednesday night.
“But at the same time we are playing good cricket but as long as we continue to show good form we fancy our chance to defend it.”
The Caribbean cricketers will start as one of the favourites, placed in a tough Group B that includes India, Australia and Pakistan.
Sri Lanka — the top-ranked T20 side — have prepared by spending more than six weeks in Bangladesh, winning bilateral contests in all three formats before taking the Asia Cup.
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.
But 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 Ashes 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.
Zimbabwe vs UAE, 9.30am, Sylhet
Ireland vs Netherlands, 1.30pm, Sylhet
India vs Pakistan, 5.30pm Mirpur