Within a gap of three days, it is time for yet another India versus Pakistan tussle in this Asia Cup. Most importantly, unlike their group league encounter on Wednesday, this match in the ‘Super Four’ will have a far greater significance.
With no point being carried forward from the league stage to the ‘Super Four’, teams have to be on their toes as they cannot afford any slip-ups. And having won their respective matches on Friday, a victory here will give either India or Pakistan a more or less secure spot in the final.
Nevertheless, whether there is an added context or not, when these arch-rivals meet, they always have a point to prove. Going into Sunday’s fixture, India will be the clear favourites but the nail-biting victory over Afghanistan must have given Pakistan a much-needed confidence boost. So, one must feel Sarfraz and Co will be better equipped this time to handle the pressure of an India game, which was their undoing last time.
With Ravindra Jadeja fitting into the scheme of things nicely, India seem to have all bases covered. Skipper Rohit Sharma is not only exceptional with the bat but his proactive leadership has been impressive as well. He has led from the front to lift the team following that average show against Hong Kong.
In batting, right at the top, along with Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan has taken the extra responsibility of providing solid starts to the team. Their gameplan is not giving the opposition any wicket inside the first powerplay and because of this approach, the Virat Kohli-less middle-order hasn’t felt any pressure so far.
In bowling, the two fast bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been exceptional in the last two matches. Whether it was with the new or old ball, they have outfoxed the batsmen with their quality.
The pacers, meanwhile, have been well-supported by the spinners. Though in the last match against Bangladesh, the wrist-spin duo — Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal — failed to pick up a wicket, it should not be a concern for the team management. As we progress further in the tournament and matches are being played on same surfaces in hot and humid conditions, spinners will come into the game more. And India have three quality options in this department, which is a huge advantage.
On Saturday, India had an optional practice session where only Dinesh Karthik, KL Rahul and Manish Pandey turned up at the nets. As of now, it looks like if there are no last-minute injuries, India will play an unchanged XI on Sunday.
If Pakistan want to give India a scare, their batting needs to do well. Some of the top-order batsmen should reconsider their shot-selection in a high-pressure game. In fact, in their last match against India, the likes of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq went against team’s gameplan and played horrible shots to get out. Their coach Mickey Arthur clearly mentioned in the post-match press conference that the occasion got the better of some of these youngsters.
Hence, Pakistan should take a conservative batting approach. In fact, they should look to bat first and get a score on the board. The key in this batting line-up is the old-fox Shoaib Malik. He should look to bat till the end and anchor the innings. Others can bat around him.
Meanwhile, bowling is Pakistan’s strength. There is quality in the pace as well as the spin department. However, there are some fitness concerns for Pakistan. It will be interesting to see whether leg-spinner Shadab Khan gets fit for this fixture. He missed the last match due to a groin injury. Young Mohammad Nawaz replaced him and took 3 for 57.
Mohammad Amir was dropped in the last match and his place was taken by another left-arm pacer Shaheen Afridi and he got 2 for 38. However, in this big-ticket match, Pakistan should trust Amir’s experience. Also, all-rounder Faheem Ashraf will probably sit out once again as Haris Sohail is likely to be their first-choice option.
Following that late night finish against the Afghans in Abu Dhabi on the previous night, no Pakistan cricketer was in a mood to attend the optional practice session on Saturday.
From a neutral point of view, the India-Pakistan rivalry needs a serious revival. Despite all the build-up and hype surrounding these matches, in recent years, the encounters between to arch-rivals have been mostly one-sided. Hence, fans are desperately hoping for a closely-fought Indo-Pak game. Well, Sunday’s encounter has all the ingredients to be one.