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India v Pakistan: Every game a new battle

The memories of last year’s Champions Trophy should be fresh. Despite their top billing, India suffered a meltdown in the final against a spirited Pakistan. The Asia Cup has played the perfect stage for many such dramas.

cricket Updated: Sep 11, 2018 19:10 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
asia cup,india,pakistan
Cricket’s most talked about rivalry continues to be a storied one despite the absence of bilateral series(Getty Images)

Rivalries thrive on revenge. Even in the sanitised environs that top-level modern sport often offers, it’s the bragging rights, chest thumps and clenched fists that make a match worth remembering. With the overbearing shadow of political tension on top of it, an India-Pakistan cricket match is all that and more.

The memories of last year’s Champions Trophy should be fresh. Despite their top billing, India suffered a meltdown in the final against a spirited Pakistan. The Asia Cup has played the perfect stage for many such dramas. Cricket’s most talked about rivalry continues to be a storied one despite the absence of bilateral series. One more chapter will be added to that on September 19, when the two teams meet again in Dubai.

Spin factor

In the time after the Champions Trophy loss, India notched overseas ODI series wins in South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies while also winning at home against Australia and New Zealand at home. Their recent ODI series against England, however, came as a blooper as they went down 2-1.

Compared to India, Pakistan have played just three ODI series post their Champions Trophy triumph. All three resulted in 5-0 whitewashes — Pakistan winning the Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe series but losing in New Zealand.

The biggest change for India has been the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. As Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja faded away from the limited-overs scene, the two wrist-spinners shouldered the responsibility with maturity.

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The South Africa series highlighted their prowess as the duo shared 33 wickets to spin India to a landmark win. However, the England tour has been a reality check for both as the England batsmen read them early on to negate their sting.

Tired legs

That’s not the only concern though. A scorching UAE will welcome them after a long tour of the United Kingdom. The last Test match of the ongoing tour ends September 11, four days before the Asia Cup starts. A cramped schedule means India play their first game on September 18 (against Hong Kong) and Pakistan the very next day.

However, with four teams qualifying for the tournament, India might again face Pakistan in the ‘super four’, starting on September 21. If India play the final on September28, it will be their sixth match in 11 days. For a team that has been on the road for almost four months, it will only add to the challenge.

The absence of Virat Kohli, rested after suffering a back injury scare, too gives Pakistan an advantage as they won’t have to plot the fall of their most competent rival. How well Rohit marshals his troops, or how the top-order holds up against the likes of Amir and Hasan Ali, not once but possibly thrice, will be the key.

The Unpredictables

Just to spice things up, Pakistan’s young batsmen, led by Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq are in top form. Zaman became Pakistan’s first ODI double centurion in Zimbabwe in July. Though their opponents may not be what they once were, Pakistan will take home some confidence from that 5-0 series win.

But their unpredictability makes Pakistan a puzzling opponent. They can surprise when least expected to — like in the 1992 World Cup or the 2017 Champions Trophy — and implode when on top. It is this unpredictability that India would look to exploit.

That the teams might face each other thrice increases the pressure, but it also provides the chance to settle scores in little time. Come September 19 though, India have a one-year-old score to begin with.

First Published: Sep 09, 2018 09:29 IST