An India-Pakistan clash is a pressure cooker. The heat builds up and there is no escape but to play it out and hope to emerge victorious. India will face their traditional rivals in the Asia Cup on Saturday after a gap of nearly a year and both sides know defeat is never an option.
Focus in situations like these is on the leaders. Ahead of this marquee clash, the spotlight on the captains holds as much relevance as in the past.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Shahid Afridi are at the fag end of their careers. In the recent past, both have been hounded by questions about their retirement. On one hand, India contemplates a future under the leadership of Virat Kohli while the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has already begun planning for the future keeping Afridi’s impending retirement from T20 internationals in mind.
In the past week, both Dhoni and Afridi have dismissed suggestions of retirement. Afridi, who had announced he would hang his boots after the WT20, has gone back on his words, stating that he can still play on.
Both entered the game with similar traits, Afridi almost two decades ago. They are big hitters of the ball, and have delivered some of the biggest wins for their teams in pressure situations. Over the years, both have evolved into leaders though Dhoni is way ahead in terms of his achievements on that count.
Afridi has already called time on his ODI and Test career. Dhoni, having given up Tests last year, looks unlikely to stretch himself till the ODI World Cup in 2019. The next World T20 will be held in 2020. Thus, the Asia Cup and WT20 provide both with the last big opportunity to go head-to-head as skippers and batsmen.
The importance of success in an Indo-Pak clash for members on either side is phenomenal. And for the skippers, it is time for their bats to do the talking.
However, it looks unlikely to be a smooth ride for Dhoni. Although he braved a back spasm to lead the team to an impressive win over Bangladesh on Wednesday, he is yet to fully recover. On Friday, Dhoni and ageing pacer Ashish Nehra were allowed to skip training by the team management.
Afridi preferred to focus on the formidable Pakistan pace attack getting the better of India’s in-form batsmen than his retirement.
“I’ve decided not to think about the issue right now,” he said. “The focus is on the Asia Cup and World T20. My bat has not been working as before, and I see my role more as a bowler nowadays.”
If the Mirpur pitch helps seamers, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Sami, 34, who last played a limited-overs tie in May last year, will be a big threat to India.