India and Pakistan will clash on Sunday exactly a year after they tested each other's might in the 2011 World Cup semifinal. The last time around, a loss would have meant exit of the losing team. But this time, in the Asia Cup, it's a knockout situation only for India because Pakistan, with two wins and a bonus point, are sitting pretty in the final.
After the loss against Bangladesh, Dhoni's men find themselves in a situation where a reversal would mean the team getting into all sorts of equations. If India beat Pakistan, they will end with eight points. If Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka, they will also have eight points. That will indeed be a tricky situation. If India lose and Sri Lanka win against Bangladesh, it will open up the race for the second team to get to the final.
I can assure you from personal experience that an India-Pakistan clash is a completely different ballgame. This can turn you into a hero overnight. It is the most revered clash in the cricketing world and everything is brought into question. The socio-political relationship of the neighbours surges to the fore and tests the mental strength of every individual. You might be in the best of form, but if you don't stand up in this game, critics can write you off in a second. The simple theory on both sides is, you can lose to anyone but not to each other.
Since their last clash, both teams have undergone a lot of changes. India are missing Sehwag, Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Zaheer and it is time for Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Jadeja and Ashwin to come out strong. They are sure to get the calming effect from seniors like Sachin Tendulkar, Gambhir and Dhoni. After his hundred, I am sure Sachin will be feeling light and mentally fresh.
India's problem area is their bowling. Without Zaheer, there seems to be no leader in that department. Ashwin and Jadeja have not looked menacing on the sub-continent track.
Pakistan, in a way, will be more relaxed as they have made it to the final. They have youngsters like Umar Akmal and Aizaz Cheema, who will want to make a mark in this match. Ajmal and Akmal have impressed me and the former is surely a frontrunner in the post-Murali era. Add to them seasoned pros like Misbah, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi. The Pakistan bowling, comprising of Gul, Cheema, Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi, seems to have an edge but the batting, to me, is the weak link. In an India-Pak clash you can't predict the winner. Whichever team holds its nerve and gets that extra gusto will stand out.
(The writer is a former india captain who now works as a TV pundit)
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