The high-octane cricket battle between India and Pakistan started with a mini selection controversy, with Dinesh Karthik edging Rishabh Pant in the Indian playing eleven. Picking 37-year-old Karthik ahead of Pant, 13 years his junior and Indian cricket’s poster boy, ostensibly came from a thought process that the veteran ‘keeper-batsman has been the team management’s preferred choice as a finisher.
Also, going ahead, this could be the team combination with an eye to the T20 World Cup, a couple of months down the line. Pant is not a finisher in white-ball cricket, he is a middle-order enforcer, a role that has been bestowed upon Suryakumar Yadav in this Asia Cup fixture. Leaving out Pant surely wasn’t an easy choice, and it didn’t go down well with Gautam Gambhir.
“Now is the time when experiments stop and a settled combination should emerge, as India don’t have many more games to play before the World Cup. I think, the Rishabh Pant bit, they got it wrong and he should have played. Also, his inclusion would have meant a left-hander in the middle-order amid a host of right-handers,” the former India opener told the host broadcaster. His erstwhile Kolkata Knight Riders colleague and Pakistan legend Wasim Akram concurred.
India also included fast bowlers Avesh Khan and Arshdeep Singh to supplement experienced seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar as paceman Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel were both ruled out of the Asia Cup due to injuries.
Pakistan has happy memories at the Dubai International Stadium where it routed India by 10 wickets in last year’s T20 World Cup.
But Pakistan is also without its key paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is nursing a knee injury and has been advised to rest for 4-6 weeks.
In the absence of Afridi, Pakistan gave a debut to fast bowler Naseem Shah and also preferred Shahnawaz Dahani over fast bowler Mohammad Hasnain in the starting XI.
Pakistan and India are both in Group A, which also features Hong Kong. The top two teams from both groups qualify for the Super 4 stage.