India, Pakistan meet with more than bragging rights at stake

India takes on Pakistan with a 100 per cent record in the tournament so far, knowing, however, that its biggest test could come Sunday against the arch-rival.

Just three days after its inconsequential Group A clash, India and Pakistan meet in Dubai, this time the stakes being a lot higher.   -  AFP

The Asia Cup is a six-team tournament, with three different stages. The format of the tournament is such that it ensures that India and Pakistan face each other at least twice, with an additional possibility of a face-off in the final. Considering that the fact that the two teams cannot be involved in a bilateral cricket series due to simmering political tension, nobody – barring a bunch of Bangladesh and Pakistani cricketers – seems to be complaining about the format or the scheduling.  

In fact, the fans in the United Arab Emirates – who last saw the Men in Blue in action in the desert land way back in 2006 – will be thronging the Dubai International Cricket Stadium again on Sunday in what would be the second encounter in four days between the arch-rivals. While an inconsequential Group A game – with both teams having qualified for the Super Four even before the match began – turned out to be a lop-sided affair in favour of India, the fans will be hoping for a keener tussle from the Green group.

After all, the stakes are much higher for the clash on Sunday since the prospects of the possible third match of the mini-series (read the final) will depend a lot on the outcome of the match. With both teams starting Super Fours with contrasting wins on Friday, a win on Sunday will virtually ensure an entry into the final. If India continues its dominating streak from the last two matches, then it will seal a place in the final, since its net run rate has leapfrogged having beaten Bangladesh with almost 14 overs to spare.

Pakistan, on the other hand, survived a scare against Afghanistan, overhauling a challenging target of 258 with just three balls remaining. Sarfraz Ahmed will thus hope that his boys will build on the confidence of having pocketed two points and put up a strong show against India.

India, on the other hand, doesn't have too much to ponder going into the match. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been striking regularly at the start and the death; Ravindra Jadeja's addition to the team ahead of the Super Four stage has made the spin department stronger, with wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav playing the second fiddle to the seasoned Jadeja.

As for the batting unit, captain Rohit Sharma and his deputy Shikhar Dhawan have so far ensured the team hasn't missed Virat Kohli, who has skipped the tournament to be fitter and stronger, mentally and physically, ahead of a hectic season that will culminate with the next year's World Cup. Ambati Rayudu has staked a claim for the vacant middle-order slot for the World Cup with consistent performances.

The only area of concern, if at all, is the lack of batting time for India's lower middle order so far in the tournament. With the top order delivering drastically and the middle-order playing the support role after the early hiccup against Hong Kong in the tournament opener, the lower middle order hasn't really got a good look in. But as Kedar Jadhav joked about it after the last game versus Pakistan that once Rohit is into his elements, the lower order is sure it won't get to bat. If the lower middle order continues to wait in the change room, it would mean India could well register yet another one-sided win and book a place in the final.

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, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (w.k.), Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddharth Kaul, Deepak Chahar.

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: Rod Tucker & Ruchira Palligurya; TV Umpire: Gregory Brathwaite; Match referee: David Boon.  

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