Sunday’s Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan may not be a do-and-die as far as reaching the final of the Asia Cup is concerned, but any contest between the traditional rivals is never short of drama and excitement.
A single heroic performance can change the whole complexion of the match, but going by their recent form, India look far stronger as a team and will start as overwhelming favourites at Dubai International Stadium.
Except for a protracted period of Hong Kong’s innings in their group match, when the Indian bowlers could not break the opening partnership that put on 174 runs, the defending champions have been all business under captain Rohit Sharma.
Once that opening partnership was broken, the Indian bowlers have taken 28 wickets in 108.1 overs, giving away just 420 runs. The batsmen, on the other hand, have put on 623 runs in 115.2 overs losing 12 wickets.
In their group stage match, Pakistan were beaten by India in the most convincing manner by eight wickets. Can they turn their fortune around, or will it be India’s night once again? Here, we discuss the five key factors that should decide the outcome of Sunday’s match.
Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, candidly admitted earlier this year that he was “bloody nervous” before playing the final of the Australian Open, where he went on to win his 20th Grand Slam title.
No sportsperson in the world can say they do not feel 'butterflies in the stomach' at the onset of a competition. Tiger Woods, a 14-time major champion, once said, “The day I stop feeling tightness in my guts before a round, will be the day I’d start contemplating retirement.”
What makes some of these athletes and teams special is their ability to quickly settle those nerves and get into the rhythm. Clearly, Pakistan were unable to do that in last Tuesday’s match.
Once India got the two early wickets of Imam-ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman, the pressure was always on Pakistan, and despite the third-wicket partnership of 82 runs between Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik, they were never in the game.
The most important thing for Pakistan on Sunday, whether they are batting or bowling first, would be to get rid of the early nerves.
Ability to handle Bumrah
Batsmen world over have found Jasprit Bumrah tough to negotiate, and Pakistan are no different. It’s not just his unusual bowling action that has sowed several seeds of doubt in batsmen’s mind, but also his nagging accuracy and the length at which he bowls.
In their last match, Bumrah started with two consecutive maiden overs — one to Fakhar Zaman and the next to Babar Azam — and his opening partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar reaped the rewards with two early wickets as Pakistan batsmen decided to target him for the runs.
The gamble with Amir
Pakistan decided to drop their star bowler Mohammad Amir in Friday’s Super Four match against Afghanistan, instead handing the 18-year-old left-arm medium-pacer Shaheen Afridi his first ODI cap.
While Afridi was the most impressive bowler in Abu Dhabi, taking two wickets and seeing five catches dropped of his bowling, it would be interesting to see if the Pakistan team management decides to prefer his inexperience over Amir’s proven track record.
Amir has been a shadow of himself ever since wrecking the Indian batting line-up in the 2017 final of the ICC Champions Trophy with his spell of 3-16. In nine matches after that, he has never bowled his full quota of overs and taken just three wickets giving away 261 runs in 65 overs. An economy rate of four is excellent at this level, but the worrying part is his inability to take wickets.
Imam’s pivotal role
Of all the Pakistan batsmen who failed against India, coach Micky Arthur decided to name just one in the post-match press conference — Imam-ul Haq. That is a great indicator of how important the 22-year-old nephew of Inzamam-ul Haq has become to the Pakistani plans.
Arthur was critical that Imam played “out of his role” and decided to give Bhuvneshwar the charge and play an uncharacteristic shot as early as in the third over.
Whatever transpired between the coach and the player after the match, it is clear it had an effect on Imam, who made 80 and was instrumental in setting up Pakistan’s chase against Afghanistan after they lost an early wicket in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
In a team that is known for its strokemakers, Imam and Shoaib Malik have the responsibility to keep one end intact. And with Imam being an opener, that role becomes even more important.
The trajectory of Jadhav and Jadeja
The pitches in Dubai so far have neither been conducive to pace nor spin. What has been most effective on the slow surface has been good line and length.
In this scenario, and with not much change in conditions expected for Sunday’s match, the presence of Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav in the Indian team gives them an edge. Their flat trajectories and the ability to push the ball quicker has proved to be the most effective way to get rid of opposition batsmen.
In the match against Pakistan, Jadhav took 3-23 and destroyed the middle-order, while Jadeja marked his return to the national ODI team after more than a year with a haul of 4-29 against Bangladesh.
Jadhav summed it best after his Man-of-the-Match performance last Tuesday, “We try to do what we’re expected to do — bowling in the right areas and keeping the pressure while the fielders are in the circle.
“I just like bowling stumps-to-stumps. It is quite simple really… if you miss, I hit. If we stick to the processes, the results will take care of itself, and that’s what I feel is happening.”