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It is more than a practice game for Pakistan

Pakistan will treat their first meeting with India in almost a year as probably the most important game of the entire World Cup with a nations pride at stake.

Just one look at the way the two captains addressed the media at Lord’s on Sunday was enough to give an indication of how they were approaching the ICC World Twenty20.

While Indian skipper MS Dhoni reflected quiet confidence with every syllable that he uttered, his Pakistani counterpart Younis Khan only conveyed anxiety with his actions.

Clearly, Younis has a bigger challenge than Dhoni: he has to bring a smile on every person’s face in his troubled country by winning it this time. The Peshawar toughie, however, has more realistic goals: ‘‘It’ll be an achievement for us to finish in the top four.’’

As last year’s finalists clash in the last warm-up game at The Oval on Wednesday, there is a lot at stake, especially for Pakistan. They haven’t had any international cricket (at home) after the March 3 attacks on the Sri Lankan team outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. They are rusty, but also hungry, angry and focused. It’s a deadly cocktail.

Their heavy 59-run loss against South Africa at Trent Bridge on Monday would have dented their confidence somewhat, but expect them to come out all guns firing against India. Most in the Pak team and cricket board believe that it was at the behest of India that they were stripped of the 2011 World Cup co-hosting rights. Their players were barred from participating in the IPL, thanks to the 26/11 fallout and no Pak team has been invited to play in the Champions League T20 event either.

While the contests between them have always been hot, the players of all eras have got on nicely off the field. This generation is no different. Punjabi jokes (‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’) adorn their cellphone inboxes and they are circulated. But 26/11 and its after-effect has changed all that.

The World T20 seedings have been designed in such a way that India and Pakistan cannot meet before the final. So, unless the teams reproduce the performance in South Africa, Wednesday’s clash is the only Indo-Pak encounter that fans can enjoy. A win on Wednesday, even if it’s in a warm-up match, can be the beginning of Younis Khan’s endeavour to give the fans back home a reason to celebrate.

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