Dhaka – The World Twenty20 steps up a gear 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.
“It has nothing to do with history,” Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez told a packed media conference in Dhaka on Thursday. “Beating India will be important because a good start will give us momentum in the tournament.
“I am glad we are playing India first up. We are all excited about this game. The morale is good because we beat them in the Asia Cup. But we have to be at our best to win.”
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.
“Nothing of the past matters in this game,” he said, reminding critics that India lost just one game at the 2012 edition and yet failed to make the knock-out rounds.
“The matches to follow are as important as the one on Friday, but we are not looking beyond our first game yet.”
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.
Sri Lanka Ä 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.
The final is on April 6. – Sapa-AFP