It’s the match of the Asia Cup with so many charms, thrills and moments of excitement in store as a packed Dubai stadium revives the rivalry between the two strong cricketing nations.
Some estimates suggest Wednesday’s match between the sub-continental cricket giants could attract a worldwide television audience of more than a billion viewers with the organizers announcing asell-out crowd and warned anyone doesn’t have a ticket should not come close to the stadium.
Ties between India and Pakistan are rare and far between so the excitement and bitterness reach at acme once the two sub-continent giants line up. This will be the first time when Pakistan and India lock horns on a cricket field since the final of the Champions Trophy which Pakistan famously won by a big 180 run margin — their best win over India.
Pakistan starts as favourites, for a few reasons. They have a young team fully fit and improved as a fielding unit. They know the conditions of the UAE as this has been their neutral venue since 2009.
Pakistan’s much vaunted bowling line up is causing headaches for the best batting units in the world and it will pose many problems for an Indian team without heir soul and heart — Virat Kohli — not included for this event to rest his aching back. That has broken the backbone of the Indian batting.
But Sarfraz is not taking anything for granted.
“No doubt Kohli is their captain and the best batsman in the world,” said Sarfraz, who also led Pakistan to a astonishing win over India in the final of the ICC Junior World Cup in Colombo in 2006.
“I do not know why he is not here and resting but I still feel India have a good team even without Kohli. They have good players who have done well for India. So I don’t think it will make much difference to India without being with Kohli.”
Sarfraz said the win over India at The Oval is history so his players will have to leave that behind.
“We will not take that win the mind, that was a different atmosphere and condition. Its a year now from that. Thats history so we will enter the ground with a new strategy and passion,” said Sarfraz, hoping a great match.
“I am sure it will be a great match. I admit Indian batting is strong so I can say that it will be a good match. Fans will get to see a good match. My message to the players is not to bother about the result and do your best to give your best game and when you do that you get apositive result.”
Pakistan will look to Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq to give them a kick start as they have been doing for the last series in Zimbabw, having set a world record of 304 runs in July. Fakhar hit a lucky 108 at The Oval while Imam- playing his first match against India — will hope to emulate his recent form which saw him hit three hundreds in five matches in Zimbabwe.
Babar Zaman, Sarfraz, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali form a strong top six which will be challnged by India’s spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav who have played a key role in India’s six wins in he past tseven series.
The right-left combination of the two spinners have taken 91 wickets between them since their debuts.
Pakistan looks short on spin with Shadab Khan as their main slow bowler with Shoaib Malik complimenting occasionally.
Heat on the field, heat outside
Heat will be the common factor on and off the field come Wednesday. The searing heat in the UAE with mercury rising to 40 plus and threatens a further rise in the coming day, a big challenge for both the teams, especially for India.
“Yes, the conditions are tough but once it’s the game time and a match against Pakistan we have to focus on the game and do not worry about oher issues like heat etc,” said Indian captain Rohit Sharma.
But Indian pace attack looks weaker than Pakistan. Bhuvneshawar Kumar will be short of match practice after missing the five-match Tests series in England with a back problem while Jasprit Bumrah will be tired after the UK tour, half of which he missed with a finger injury.
In contrast, Pakistan have three quality left-armers in Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari and Junaid Khan. Shaheen Shah Afridi is in the back up to fill in case Pakistan wishes to play a bowler unknown to India.
Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf are two rigth armers with immnese potential. Hasan followed Amir’s three wickets with as many of his in the Oval final. He too would be itching to repeat a performance like Oval.
Pakistan and India are equal in terms of Asia Cup matches, having won five games each with one no result. So this is another opportunity for both to go one up.
The two teams will meet again on September 23, barring any upset, in the Super Four Stages.