It's time to take off the kid gloves and slip on the real ones. After the fun fights with toddlers like Hong Kong and UAE, the heavy weights are now set for some real tussles, with India entering the ring on Thursday to trade blows with Pakistan.
And more than anyone else, it would be the Asian Cricket Council which would be looking forward to the contest most eagerly, for the tournament --- the Asia Cup --- will finally get a contest befitting its stature.
Even though the match would be of theoretical interest as both the team are already assured of a berth in the next round, the contest will for sure hold enough interest to pull the crowd in droves.
It would broadly be a contest between Pakistan's age-old unpredictability and India's newfound consistency. Though Pakistan won the Kitply series, they lacked consistency, and it came to the fore yet again the other day against Hong Kong. The Pakistani batsmen almost made a mess of it before the lower order saved the day for them with some super fight-back. Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik tried to make light of the lapse, suggesting it was a blessing in disguise as it gave their lower order batsmen a chance to get into the thick of action. "Look, it happens once in a while, and then it wasn't a complete collapse. I got some runs, Younis made a half-century. So we aren't at all worried and pretty confident about taking on India," he said.
The Indians, however, continued with their consistency and gave themselves some superb batting practice ahead of the contest. With openers in red-hot form, and the middle order too working its way back into form, the Pakistan bowlers will find it hard to contain them, even though Malik is billing it as a contest between Pakistan bowlers and Indian batsmen.
"They have a strong batting line-up, but I think we have a slight advantage in the bowling department," said Malik. Notwithstanding Malik's optimism, India are certain to go into the contest as favourites.