The battle lines are drawn for a pulsating clash with India and Pakistan both eyeing a strong start to their Super Four campaign in the Asia Cup on Sunday. For cricket fans all over the globe, India-Pakistan contests are much-awaited mega-events. Given their political tensions, however, Indo-Pak games are now played only in ICC tournaments which often means a wait for a few years. But this Asia Cup is a welcome surprise for cricket lovers as the arch-rivals will battle for a second time in a week and later possibly even in the finals of the tournament.
The face-off between Rohit Sharma’s India and Babar Azam’s Pakistan for the second Sunday in a row has aroused huge expectations. After India’s close win against Pakistan in the first match, both teams have upped their performances a notch. India beat Hong Kong easily and Pakistan thumped them by a massive margin, bowling them out for a paltry 38 as they chased 194.
Although India holds the edge after their win in the last encounter, it also implies added pressure, especially after Ravindra Jadeja’s injury which is a big blow for Team India. Jadeja had played a crucial role in India’s win in both their group stage games. In the game against Pakistan, Jadeja’s knock of 35 and his vital partnerships with Surya Kumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya helped the Men in Blue get over the line in a tense encounter. In the clash against Hong Kong, Jadeja bowled a tight spell where he gave just 15 runs in four overs and ensured that the associate nation was trounced.
Jadeja’s absence also implies a major selection headache for Team India. While Axar Patel has been drafted into the squad, who will play in the final XI is an open question. Veteran off-spinner Ashwin and Deepak Hooda with their all-round skills are other options. Given his big hitting and effective bowling ability, Hooda could well be a great choice. But filling the void left by Jadeja’s injury is a tricky task.
If Jadeja’s absence is a setback, King Kohli’s comeback is a cause for jubilation in the Indian camp. In his vital 35-run knock against Pakistan, Virat had shown signs of regaining his touch. His superb undefeated 50 in the game with Hong Kong is a clear signal that Kohli is on the verge of a return to his high-scoring self that makes him one of the all-time Greats in the game.
Besides Kohli’s welcome return to form, KL Rahul also got a 30-plus score against Hong Kong though he is still far from his best. Also, skipper Rohit looks in good nick though big scores remain elusive for him. Overall, the Top 3 of Team India seem to be getting into their groove and do not seem as vulnerable as they did before the last game against Pakistan.
On the Pakistan side too, the batting has shown signs of recovery. Though captain Babar Azam has failed twice in the Asia Cup, his opening partner Rizwan has excelled in both the games so far. In addition, aggressive southpaw Fakhar Zaman was in great form during his brisk 50. Despite the loss in the India encounter, the 155-run win over Hong Kong is Pakistan’s biggest margin of victory in T20I history and suggests that the momentum and morale are back for Babar’s boys.
Pakistan’s middle order, however, remains a worry. The way they crumbled against India in the first game is a reflection that it may be a weak link for the side. In stark contrast, the middle order is proving to be one of India’s big strengths. If Hardik Pandya’s heroics had pipped Pakistan in the last game, Surya Kant Yadav’s power-packed aggression was astounding in the Hong Kong game. Though Jadeja’s absence is a worry, with Dinesh Kartik and possibly Deepak Hooda in the mix, Team India sure has the batting riches to beat Pakistan.
In the bowling department, however, Pakistan remains a formidable force despite Shaheen’s absence due to injury. ALL their pacers seem to be sharp and are bowling well. From the fiery youngsters, Naseem Shah and Shahnawaz Dahani to the experienced veteran Haris Rauf all seem to be bowling in an aggressive fashion. Significantly, the two spinners, Shadab and leftie Mohammad Nawaz are also at their wily best. The strength of the Pakistani attack was more than obvious in the manner in which they bundled out Hong Kong for just 38.
In contrast, Indian bowling looks a tad less effective. Though Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh have been impressive, Avesh Khan’s lack of consistency is a cause of concern. While Hardik’s spells are vital, Jadeja’s absence could weaken the bowling attack.
Overall, the key contest may well revolve around India’s batting might and Pakistan’s bowling armoury. Given the form of both sides and their evenly-matched skills, the game on Sunday promises to be a humdinger. Ultimately, the team that handles pressure better on the day may well be the winners, as in most Indo-Pak blockbusters!