Political tensions and lack of bilateral cricketing ties have ensured that when India and Pakistan eventually play each other in multi-team tournaments, factors like current form and head-to-head records become irrelevant.There is no recency bias. The last time these two teams played in a 50-over contest was in Old Trafford, Manchester in June 2019, in the World Cup – a good 51 months ago.
India vs Pakistan: Who has the edge in the Asia Cup clash?
For the record, India bossed that game, like they have been bossing this rivalry for a while now. The last five contests between the two teams reads 4-1 in favour of India. The lone defeat was a crushing loss in the 2017 Champions Trophy final at the Oval.
Experts say when you play against Pakistan, you never know which side will turn up – the inspired, emotional unit armed with skill and emotion, or the insipid and error-prone side which tries hard to provide chaotic entertainment.
This Pakistan unit under Babar Azam, however, is different. The core of the team has been playing together for almost 30 months and consistent results have ensured a well-deserved stay at the top of the ODI rankings table. Stability, a term not previously present in Pakistan’s cricket dictionary, has ironically been the biggest reason for the team’s surge to the top.
Curiously, it is Rohit Sharma‘s India who are battling injuries and instability as a result of playing musical chairs, either with captains or the middle-order slots, as they gear up for their massive Asia Cup clash against their neighbours in gloomy Pallekele.
KL Rahul’s lack of full recovery from a niggle has meant another outing for Ishan Kishan as a wicketkeeper-batter. Kishan opened the batting with Shubman Gill in the West Indies in July and cracked three half-centuries in three games. He also has a double hundred, the fastest in ODIs – vs Bangladesh, Chattogram in Dec 2022 – from that spot.
Will skipper Rohit, who waxed eloquent about the need to be flexible after the selection meeting, himself bat down the order to avoid dislodging the Ranchi left-hander? Or will Rohit bat where he has enjoyed success – as an opener – and make Kishan bat down the order?
Kishan has had unimpressive returns batting at No.4. Former players and ex-selectors have been vocal about playing Kishan as an opener since he provides the early dash of flamboyance which allows others to bat at their pace.
One will have to keep in mind, though, that against bowlers of the skill and pace of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, and Haris Rauf on a Pallekele surface that is a good friend of bounce and seam, it is pedigree that will count, not pyrotechnics.
India’s engine room in batting is managed by Rohit, Gill and the talismanic Virat Kohli and Pakistan know that the batting after that is rusty and can misfire under pressure. Shreyas Iyer, in particular, is coming back from a lengthy layoff.
Suryakumar Yadav has failed to crack the ODI code and then you have the allrounders Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya. Australia exploited that batting weakness in the series in March in India, where they trounced the hosts 2-1.
Pakistan’s video analysts and coaching staff with director of cricket Mickey Arthur would have studied the dismissal patterns in that series and would be thrilled to note how the Indians struggled against the left-arm pace of Mitchell Starc.
In Afridi, Pakistan have the ideal man that can crack open the Indian top-order and expose the middle and lower middle-order.
Left-arm pace has been India’s Achilles heel in important white-ball games. Amir, Trent Boult, Afridi, Mitchell Johnson, Wahab Riaz and Starc have all left scars on key Indian batters which may never heal.
But Team India too has a skillful trio of pacers. The fit-again Jasprit Bumrah, the tireless Mohammed Siraj and the gifted veteran Mohammed Shami will target the scalp of out-of-form southpaw Fakhar Zaman to get Babar in early when the ball would be new.
Imam-ul-Haq and skipper Babar have been a model of consistency over the last two years in 50-over cricket and India will need to prize them out quickly. Shadab Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan and Agha Salman can provide the fireworks.
ASIA CUP CLASSICS: TWO LAST-OVER THRILLERS BETWEEN INDIA-PAKISTAN
Lots of colourful gaalis. Gautam Gambhir and Kamran Akmal almost coming close to head-butting. A heart-stopping finish with Harbhajan Singh being the unlikely batting hero. Chasing 268, India looked in cruise control with Dhoni and Gambhir at the crease. But excessive appealing from Akmal got to Gambhir and he was dismissed for 83. 180/2 in 35 overs soon became 219/6. A furious exchange between Shoaib Akhtar and Harbhajan ensued after the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ hurled some bouncers and some choice Punjabi cuss words.
Another quintessential Indo-Pak classic. Batting first, India made 245/8. Pakistan looked to be comfortable at 200/4 in 43 overs, but then self-destructed through a couple of rash shots and run outs and slumped to 236/9 after 49 overs. With Pakistan needing 10 off five balls, an Indian win looked near certain. However, Shahid Afridi swot Ravichandran Ashwin for two sixes to take Pakistan to a famous win.