More than a year after India and Pakistan played each other, the arch-rivals will face off at the Asia Cup 2018. Here's a look at the key battles within the contest.
India will play Pakistan for the first time since their humiliating defeat at The Oval in the Champions Trophy final last year. A lot has changed since that match. India have a new coach, a spin attack compromising two wrist-spinners, and a stand-in captain in Rohit Sharma. On the other side, Pakistan have also moved forward by grooming youngsters and in the process, they are building a strong side ahead of next year's World Cup.
We look at five key battles ahead of the high-octane clash in Dubai.
Mohammad Amir vs Rohit Sharma
"He is just a normal bowler. Stop talking about him already," Rohit Sharma had said of Mohammad Amir in March 2016. Next time the pair clashed, it took Amir just three balls to dismiss the Indian opener. The pair will go head-to-head again on Wednesday and there is no doubt Rohit will be keen to get his revenge.
The Indian captain has shown he can post mammoth totals if he is not dismissed early and is arguably the biggest threat to Pakistan. But left-handed bowlers have a good record against Rohit and Amir's ability to move the ball both ways is sure to keep the Indian skipper on his toes. Rohit is averaging a phenomenal 55.35 in last two years, but at the same time, his average against left-arm seamers is just 20.50. Interestingly, in the five matches that Rohit has opened against Pakistan, he is yet to score a century and in such an important game, he will be desperate to get a big score. Amir, on the other hand, will know if he can knock over Rohit early, it will put the Indian middle order under tremendous pressure.
Fakhar Zaman vs Jasprit Bumrah
Twelve months is a long time in the sport, but India will still have nightmares about Fakhar Zaman's vibrant century in the Champion Trophy final last year. Bumrah had dismissed the Pakistan opener when he was on three but had overstepped, and the rest is history. Since then, Zaman has taken his batting to another level. The left-hander averages 72.60 in ODIs and in the last year has dismantled some of the best bowling attacks in the world. Bumrah is the No 1 ODI bowler in the world and his pace, along with his ability to shape the ball across Zaman is likely to pose a big threat to the Pakistan opener. In the Champions Trophy final last year, Bumrah had kept Zaman in check, by bowling very straight to him initially before finding the edge with an away going delivery. Zaman is Pakistan's power player and if Bumrah can nail him early, it will have a significant impact on the scoring rate.
Shoaib Malik vs Indian spinners
No batsman loves playing India more than Shoaib Malik. Four of his nine hundreds in ODI cricket have come against India and his career average rises from 35.12 to 47.45 versus the arch-rivals. With 267 matches under his belt, Malik is the most experienced player in the Pakistan line-up. He is also the most dependable and an exceptional player against spin bowling. The veteran has a strike in excess of 90 and an average of 53 whenever he has tackled the Indian spinners in his long career. Malik's battle against Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the middle overs will have a huge impact on the match. The Indian wrist spinners have played a major role in their team's dominance in the past 12 months. Kuldeep has troubled batsmen across the world who have found him tough to read and Malik is yet to play the Chinaman. It promises to be a fascinating prospect against the young gun vs the wily veteran.
Hasan Ali vs India batsmen in death overs
Is there a more improved bowler in 50-over cricket currently than Hasan Ali? The Pakistan pacer has taken the most wickets in the format than any other bowler since his debut in 2016. Importantly, he is one of the best death bowlers going around and with a strike rate of 23, he has a happy knack of picking wickets exactly when the team needs.
Blessed with a well-disguised slower ball, a wide yorker, and a sharp bouncer, Ali has all the tricks in the book. He is also one of the rare bowlers who can reverse the white ball. On Wednesday, Ali will come up against the likes of MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya, and it promises to be a mouth-watering contest. The big boundaries are sure to be in his favour but he is one man who thrives on challenges. How the Indian batsmen counter Ali could be pivotal in deciding the winner.
Shadab Khan vs Indian middle order
In recent times, wrist spinners have troubled the Indian middle order. In England, Adil Rashid was exceptional through the central part of the innings and Shadab Khan is again likely to pose some tough questions once the ball gets old and starts gripping the surface. The wrist spinner has a lethal googly and is quick through the air, making it difficult to dance down the pitch to him. Even the likes of MS Dhoni have had their fair share of trouble picking the wrong'un of late and if Shadab is able to dominate through the middle phase of the game, it could tilt the game in Pakistan's favour. At the same time, the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik are good sweepers and if they can get on top of Shadab, it is bound to put pressure back on Pakistan.
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