The start of the eagerly-awaited World Twenty20 match between India and Pakistan was delayed on Saturday after heavy rain fell throughout the afternoon at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
Although the rain eased up as night fell, organisers from the International Cricket Council said the match would not be able to start at the scheduled time of 7.30pm and the pre-match toss had also been delayed.
Groundsmen had begun to take the covers off, but the umpires would not make a decision on a start time until 7.45pm.
If the match is not able to start by 8.50pm, then the number of overs will be reduced.
Heavy thundershowers, accompanied by gusty winds, swept the stadium about two and a half hours before the scheduled start of the game and spectators, who had started to trickle into the stands, began to grow anxious.
The entire playing area was covered, with the groundsmen sitting on them to ensure the wind did not blow the covers away.
With the rain clearing out, the groundsmen worked on a war footing and super-soppers were pressed into action to get the ground ready for the match.
The iconic Eden Gardens has a new drainage system now and has also brought high-quality covers from the UK to ensure that rain disruptions don’t damage the outfield.
As per ICC regulations, the curtailment of overs will start only if one hour is lost to rains and umpires will wait till at least 11.15pm for a minimum five-overs-a-side game.
If the match is washed out completely, both teams will get a point each.
The cricket-mad neighbours share one of the world’s fiercest sporting rivalries and their rare showdowns on the pitch can bring both to a standstill.
Tensions have prevented the two sides from playing each other in Tests for more than a decade, and the match is only happening because the T20 is an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament.
For India, it is a game which they need to win at any cost having lost their group stage opener against New Zealand by 47 runs on Tuesday.
It has been a happy hunting ground for Rohit Sharma. The opener has scored plenty whenever he has walked out to bat and would wish to continue his love affair with the stadium against Pakistan. It will be interesting to see how Rohit deals with in-form left-arm seamer Mohammad Amir, who got him out in the Asia Cup a few weeks back.
Apart from Amir, Pakistan have two more left-arm pacers in Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan.
The team would also look up to Kohli to deliver. Against Pakistan, the Indian talisman averages 66.33 in five T20Is.
The middle order too needs to get some runs. Though Yuvraj Singh has got a few under his belt, all-rounder Hardik Pandya has had a lean patch with the willow with scores of 1, 2, 0 in his last three outings. Left-hander Suresh Raina, too, hasn’t looked too convincing.
Cricket lovers would be keen to see how skipper Dhoni shuffles his bowlers around. Pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Ashish Nehra have been among wickets and have been well backed by Ashwin and Pandya.
The last face-off between the two sub-continental giants took place in the Asia Cup, with India chasing down Pakistan’s 83 with five wickets to spare.
But that was a story that unfolded last month. A lot has changed in a matter of three weeks. And the first T20 International at Eden that involves the sub-continental rivals will be a fresh start.
Now, India seem under pressure against a side bolstered by a Shahid Afridi show. The skipper and veteran all-rounder plundered a 19-ball 49 and then picked up two crucial wickets with his leg-spin as Pakistan grabbed a 55-run victory over Bangladesh at the same venue on Wednesday.
There has been a lot of drama surrounding the Pakistan team over the last few days. It all started with their dismal performance in Asia Cup. Then Afridi received heavy flak for saying that he has got more love from India than from his own country.
However, the visitors have answered their critics in some style and would look to continue on their winning ways when they battle India.
Pakistan batsmen Mohammad Hafeez (64) and Ahmed Shehzad (52) were instrumental in their win over Bangladesh. They liked batting on the Eden surface and there’s no reason why they cannot repeat the show.
Overall, it will be a fight for the Indians to stay alive in the competition.