Picture used for illustrative purpose only.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
India and Pakistan are set to resume the greatest sporting rivalry in the derby of all derbies at their Asia Cup match in Dubai on Sunday.
Be it Australia-England clash in Ashes or Argentina taking on Brazil in a FIFA World Cup, nothing garners more attention than an India-Pakistan cricket match.
A total of two billion people are expected watch the one of the most anticipated and eagerly-awaited clash, which creates more excitement and buzz than the tournament itself.
Both India and Pakistan will get their Asia Cup campaign under way in the searing heat of Dubai in a pressure-cooker game, which is expected to raise the temperature by a notch.
India, who are the defending champions, have dominated the Asia Cup, lifting the trophy a record eight times as compared to their rivals, who have managed to lay down their hands on the silverware only twice.
In the head-to-head record at the tournament also, India have an upper hand. Both the teams have played each other 15 times in the tournament, out of which India have won eight, Pakistan five while two ended in no result.
Pakistan will look to improve those figures while India will bid to extend their dominance. Both the teams have been hit by a few injury blows. Pakistan lost pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was the wrecker-in-chief in their last match at the T20 World Cup at the same venue.
Pakistan have called up Mohammad Hasnain as his replacement before another injury blow to Md Wasim Junior forced them to recall lanky pacer Hasan Ali, who was left out owing the bad form. Wasim got injured while bowling in the nets in Dubai.
However, Pakistan captain Babar Azam played down the absence of Shaheen, saying they have a good back-up to keep their pace battery working smoothly.
“We have a quality players in our squad. They can step up and fill the void created by the absence of Shaheen. We have shown many times that we are not a one-man squad but it is the team work that we believe in,” said Azam.
He also ruled out that their 10-wicket victory over India at the same venue will have any bearing on the result of the next match.
“It is always nice to win, but we cannot rest on the past laurels. Every day is new beginning and every match is a new game. We are confident and looking forward to the future,” added the flamboyant batsman.
Pakistan will pin hopes on the trio of Babar, Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Rizwan in batting to lead their charge against India while bowling will depend on Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain and .
Meanwhile, India have a good depth in their batting still they will hope star batsman Virat Kohli gets back to his groove in his 100th T20I appearance. Virat’s form has been a big concern for India as the right-hander has not scored a century for 1000 days in any format of the game.
Indian captain Rohit Sharma played down the talks of pitch favouring spinners or pacers. He also emphasised that the quality of the both the teams have been diluted due to the absence of their respective pace spearheads. India had to leave out Jasprit Bumrah, who is nursing a niggling injury.
“It is too early to say anything about the turf. There was some grass on the pitch yesterday. But due to the injuries to Shaheen and Bumrah, the quality of the bowling in both the teams have been compromised. But it is good opportunity for their replacements to prove their mettle and make their place in the squad,” said Rohit.
“It is a new tournament and we are looking to start afresh. This is how teams move forward and we are no different. The mood in the camp is buzzing and positive,” said the Indian captain in response to a question about their drubbing by Pakistan in the T20 World Cup last year.
Pakistan broke the jinx of losing against India in the ICC events in their 13th attempt, streak which continued since 1983 World Cup, by beating their opponents for the first time. Indian had beaten them 11 times and one match had ended in a draw prior to that match.
“Dinesh Karthik has returned to the team. He is a class act and has played some good knocks for India right before being dropped. Everyone in the team has responded positively to what has been demanded of them. And we expect everyone to play their roles.
“I don’t think that toss should be a crucial factor rather we are looking to play quality cricket in both the innings. There has been no reported dew so far,” he added, ruling out the importance of the toss.