Clash against Pakistan a chance for India to show progress
While key players are missing, the old rivals will be looking to iron out chinks in their opening Asia Cup match
There is a sneaking suspicion this India-Pakistan match hasn’t quite built enough oomph. No Shaheen Shah Afridi, no Jasprit Bumrah, Virat Kohli being a shadow of his former self, these are adverts you don’t want anywhere near an India-Pakistan match. The mutual regard hasn’t dipped though. Shadab Khan trotted out a familiar narrative of dil, dosti and respect on Friday when he was asked if Kohli doesn’t instill fear anymore. “He is a legend of the game,” Shadab began. “Whenever he comes, you are a bit scared because he is a big player. He is performing well even now, but the standards that he has set…they make it feel as if he is out of form. My duas (prayers) for him to score a hundred very soon, but not against us.”
Cut to KL Rahul and the vibe was similar. “If he (Afridi) would have played, it would have been a good experience for us. Unfortunately, he is injured,” he had said on Friday.
This bonhomie is normal, Rohit Sharma said in a press conference on Saturday. “Milna jhulna rehta hai (We keep meeting). It will be a quality match because we are good sides. Hype it but we will keep focusing on the match.”
The feel-good vibe aside, India can’t be far removed from the reality that all their experiments in the past 10 months are set to be put to rigorous test, starting now. And it couldn’t have gotten off with a sterner test than this. Through their training and press conferences, India are inspiring a quiet confidence. For the first time they have a full-strength squad with KL Rahul and Kohli back in the roster. And from Suryakumar Yadav to Dinesh Karthik, they have quite a wide pool to choose their follow-up batting from. Sharma however wasn’t keen on discussing the final order.
He did however speak in length about Kohli, his fight to get back to form and mental well-being. “Maine jitna dekha (Whatever I saw), I felt he was in very good touch,” Sharma said about Kohli. “He is working hard on his batting. He isn’t looking like he is thinking about a lot of things. He is just the same, didn’t notice any extraordinary changes. He is returning after a month’s break, so he looks fresh and is also looking in good touch.”
If Kohli courts endless conjecture, it’s Pakistan’s brittle middle-order that may keep them on edge. They will hope however that one among Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman will stay put. Afridi’s injury, however, may seem like a bigger blow to them, considering the grief he had inflicted on India in the T20 World Cup last year. But trust Pakistan to unleash upon you every fast bowling stereotype even when they look depleted. India, similarly, will miss Bumrah, but Sharma isn’t reading much into their absence. “Both teams will miss the quality of Shaheen and Bumrah. But I believe that it’s an opportunity for someone else,” said Sharma. “Shaheen is one of our best bowlers, he bowls with aggression and he leads the attack, so we will miss him,” Babar said on Saturday. “If Shaheen was there, it would have been a different game. But our other bowlers are also good. We have high confidence in the camp.”
Spinners once again give India an edge, but the dew factor could negate that if India bat first like they did in the T20 World Cup. This is, however, exactly the scenario they have worked upon for the last 10 months. If you look at their learning curve as a T20 team, the origin of India’s batting makeover was the loss to Pakistan last year. And Sharma hopes they have learnt well. “When you start fresh, you can’t think about the past. That’s how teams move forward,” he said. “Of course playing Pakistan will be a challenge. But for us, we are thinking what we can achieve from this as a group, taking one game at a time. We are here for a purpose. We do talk about our losses. That’s how we want to improve as a team. But I think it’s been a while since that game. Since then we have played a lot of games, we tried to correct our mistakes. It’s a fresh start.”
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