By Aman Huda
Right after India survived a Hong Kong scare on Tuesday with Hong Kong putting up a 174-run opening partnership in response to India’s 285-7, but eventually losing by 26 runs, India had less than 24 hours to prepare for Wednesday’s encounter against arch-rivals Pakistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, has had two days to prepare following their eight-wicket thrashing of Hong Kong (who at this point have been eliminated) and are playing in familiar UAE conditions. The slow, dewless pitches will be perfect for Pakistani seamers, but both sides will still look to bat first to take off the pressure of chasing.
Despite Pakistan crushing Hong Kong, India seemed to have much more trouble, especially in the bowling department. India’s seamers weren’t too convincing with Bhuveneshwar Kumar failing to get a wicket and Shardul Thakur bowling just four overs with an economy of 10.25. Pakistan will have a slight concern in Mohammad Amir, similar to that of Kumar, as Amir’s only managed three wickets in his last eight One-Day Internationals. However, Amir is still likely to start to provide the extra pace and swing which Pakistan will need.
Coming off the back of India’s Hong Kong encounter on Tuesday, Pakistan will be looking to target India’s unsteady middle order. Against Hong Kong, India lost four wickets for forty runs, which allowed Hong Kong to restrict India to just 285-7. Against Pakistani bowlers with the likes of Faheem Ashraf and Hasan Ali, who can swing the older ball, and Shadab Khan, who has been the best spinner of the Asia Cup so far, the Indian middle order will only face trouble and will have to bat extremely carefully.
Despite the concerning performance against Hong Kong, India was not necessarily playing their best batsmen. India will be looking to find a way for all-rounder Hardik Pandya to play, which means cutting Bhuveneshwar Kumar or young pacer Khaleel Ahmed from the squad. If Captain Rohit Sharma wants to possibly reinforce the batting line-up, he can choose to bring in KL Rahul ahead of Dinesh Karthik.
Pakistan has really no reason to change their line-up after the Hong Kong match. The openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam Ul-Haq have been the best openers in Pakistani cricket in years, Babar Azam is towards the top of the rankings, the experience of Shoaib Malik will be most needed, and Usman Khan will look to keep his place in the bowling line-up after picking up three wickets against on Sunday.
Although India does have concerns in other departments, stand-in Captain Rohit Sharma will be asked the biggest questions. He seemed answer-less at times to Hong Kong’s defense and did very little compared to Virat Kohli in terms of shifting fielding, communicating with the bowlers, and simply just being expressive on the field. The lack of confidence and problems in communication can make it difficult for India against a well-organized Pakistan.
It seems like Pakistan are this time round favorites in this South Asian clash. India easily has the talent to dismantle Pakistan, but the question is if they will be organized enough to do so. As long as Pakistan plays sensible cricket, this game is in their hands and Pakistan can top the group. Both sides will be very competitive, fighting for pride and honor, but the real deal will come in the next round since Pakistan will have to play India again later in this tournament.
India will host Pakistan at Dubai in the UAE on Wednesday, September 19 at 15:30 (3:30 PM) UAE Time or 7:30 AM Eastern Time. Both teams have already qualified for the next round of the Asia Cup after Hong Kong failed to beat India on Tuesday.