NEW DELHI: Virat Kohli won’t mind reliving that magical moment against Haris Rauf, while Rohit Sharma is prepared to counter Shaheen Shah Afridi’s deceptive inswingers in the much-anticipated showdown between India and Pakistan. This encounter transcends being just a World Cup dress rehearsal; it’s the ultimate ‘Battle Royale.’
The Asia Cuphas returned to the 50-over format to provide ideal match preparation for five of the six participating teams.But for organizers and fans alike, India versus Pakistan isn’t just another game; it’s “The Match.”
Kohli’s unforgettable lofted check-drive against Rauf under the Melbourne skyline during the T20 World Cup last year remains etched in the memory of Indian cricket fans. In contrast, Pakistanis celebrated when Rohit fell victim to Shaheen’s deadly tailing-in delivery, resulting in an unmistakable dismissal.
India vs Pakistan: Who has the edge in the Asia Cup clash?
Such performances have the power to transform players into legends, and Saturday’s Asia Cup game offers another chance for cricketers from both sides to ascend to hero status.
However, with steady rain predicted in the hilly Kandy region on Saturday, there is a possibility of an anticlimactic end to this highly-anticipated clash.
India, who are is still working on finding the right combinations, hope that their “holy trinity” of captain Rohit, the incomparable Kohli, and his heir apparent Shubman Gill, are ready to take on the challenge posed by Shaheen, Rauf, and the fiery Naseem Shah.
Overcast conditions and a touch of swing in the air could provide Shaheen and Naseem with the ideal conditions to unsettle the Indian top order. This is particularly concerning for Gill, whose footwork against pacers is not as pronounced, relying more on his hand-eye coordination and a technique that places him beside the line of the ball rather than behind it.
The uncertainty surrounding the middle order is a significant issue for both India and Pakistan. India’s worries are compounded by the absence of KL Rahul, who will miss at least the first two Asia Cup games. While India might consider deploying wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan in the middle order against Pakistan, they are still undecided about his position—either No. 4 or more likely, No. 5.
Kishan’s inclusion would add a left-handed dimension to the Indian batting unit. However, the Jharkhand wicketkeeper-batsman has never batted at No. 5 in his India career, and his average in the middle order is a modest 22.75. Therefore, he will need to adapt to the demands of that position, maximizing run-scoring opportunities in potentially limited overs to bat.
On the other hand, Pakistan don’t have any injury concerns, but they are one of the most underexposed ODI sides at the moment. Since the 2019 World Cup, the ‘Green Brigade’ has played just 29 ODIs, while India has participated in 57 matches during the same period.
Pakistan have played 12 of those 29 matches this year as well. While their top three consisting captain Babar Azam (689 runs), Fakhar Zaman (593 runs) and Imam-ul-Haq (361 runs) have fired more often than not this year, there is an issue from No. 4 to No. 6.
Usama Mir, Saud Shakeel and Agha Salman have been largely inconsistent barring the odd flicker, and they looked anaemic on the days when Mohammad Rizwan, who bats at No.4, fails.
Often, Pakistan required No. 7 Iftikhar Ahmed and No.8 Shadab Khan to add a bit of heft to their innings. Iftikhar was promoted against Nepal and helped himself with an ODI hundred.
Shadab made a valuable 48 against Afghanistan last week while Pakistan notched up a nervy 1-wicket win at Hambantota.
Rizwan and Salman failed to get a sizeable score against Nepal in their Asia Cup opener at Multan a couple of days back as Pakistan rode on hundreds by Babar and Iftikhar.
While India and Pakistan are travelling on the same boat as far as their middle-order woes are concerned, the latter has a distinct advantage in the bowling department.
Of course, India have been bolstered by the return of Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna, and the pacers had also bowled intensely in the T20I series against Ireland recently.
But the Indian management will be keen to watch how they respond to the rigours of 50-over cricket. The think-tank might just prefer the experience of Shami in a needle match against Pakistan.
So, India’s pace attack on the morrow could be Bumrah, Mohammad Siraj and Shami with Hardik Pandya giving them the fourth seamer option.
As impressive as they are on paper, the Pakistan pace troika of Shaheen, Naseem and Rauf is operating at a whole different level. They already have taken 49 wickets among themselves this year with Rauf leading the chart with 17 wickets from 10 matches.
If anything, it indicates a tough examination of the skills of Indian batsmen at the Pallekele stadium, where pitch offers a reasonable amount of help for the bowlers in the form of bounce and carry.
India will also have to keep a close on the selection in the spin department. Ravindra Jadeja’s inclusion is certain and he could be coming in at No. 7. But that will leave India with four bowlers who hardly contribute with the bat.
India might think long before picking between left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav and left-arm spinner Axar Patel.
While Axar will give India the option of a bowler who can bat at No. 8, Kuldeep has better striking ability.
Kuldeep is India’s highest wicket-taker in ODIs this year with 22 wickets in 11 matches, while Axar has just 3 scalps from 6 matches.
But Pakistan have been served well by leg-spinner Shadab, who has taken 11 wickets from 8 matches in 2023, while chipping in with the bat as well.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (vc), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumraj, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Sanju Samson (travelling reserve).
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Haris, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Saud Shakeel, Tayyab Tahir (travelling reserve).