India, Pakistan clash amid much anticipation, fervour

More than a dozen months after they last met (twice) at a multi-team tournament, India and Pakistan face off in another multi-team tournament, this time in a similar setting as well.

Rohit Sharma and Sarfraz Ahmed at the captains's presser before the tournament.   -  AFP

The prolonged wait is over. The moment that you were waiting for, irrespective of nationality, as genuine cricket fans, is here. It does not have any ramification on the Asia Cup. It will not have any bearing on the standings or venues for the next stage. Still, who cares? It's India versus Pakistan. That too in the Gulf. 

The setting may not be the famed Sharjah but come Wednesday the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, choc-a-bloc with its 25,000 capacity, could easily rememble Lahore or Ludhiana, Mumbai or Multan; or even Karachi or Kolkata. The scorching heat will not matter to the fans. After all, the arch-rivals have not faced each other since the Champions Trophy final last year.  

To add to razzmatazz, celebrities from cricket – an array of stalwarts from both the countries, politics – a political big-big who may fly in for the match happens to be a former World Cup-winning captain; and the and entertainment business – who's who of Bollywood who are closely associated with the host broadcaster, are likely to descend down to the city that never sleeps for the high-voltage match.

 

Irrespective of the external factors, the intensity in the middle will surely be at its peak, the stage of the tournamant aside. Rohit Sharma's men will be gunning to avenge the Champions Trophy final mauling, while Pakistan will hope to put India without Virat Kohli under the mat to set the tone for the Super 4 stage.

Moreover, as Pakistan pacer Usman Khan stated, young cricketers – not necessarily in terms of age but experience at the highest level – from both the sides will be desperate to make a mark in what is widely billed as “the match that matters the most” for both the nations. 

Over the last decade, the India-Pakistan rivalry hasn't been on display on the field as frequently as in the previous two decades. It's not like the 1980s or the '90s, when virtually every other day India would be up against Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Over the last decade, the two arch-rivals have faced each other just 18 times across formats. Still, such is the political and historical significance of the clash that it remains one of the most important affairs of a player's career from either countries.

On Wednesday, besides setting a tone for the big Super 4 clash between both the teams over the weekend, both the teams – having made short work of qualifier Hong Kong in its opening clash – will be looking to strengthen its team combination. While India will be hoping to get a settled middle-order combination ahead of the next year's World Cup, Pakistan will be in a dilemma on whether to rest lead pacer Mohammad Amir or not.

Ravi Shastri, the India head coach, will not be in the commentators' box. Still, irrespective of the team combinations, as the former all-rounder would famously say during his stint as expert: “expect a cracker of a game”.

Over to Wednesday.

Match starts 5 p.m. IST

The teams (from)

India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), Shikhar Dhawan (Vice-capt.) , K.L. Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (w.k.), Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed.

Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (Capt., w.k.), Fakhar Zaman, Imam Ul Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, , Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Muhammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari, Shaheen Afridi.

Umpires: Marais Erasmus & Ruchira Palligurya; TV Umpire: Gregory Brathwaite; Match referee: David Boon.