MIRPUR: Driven into a corner after their defeat to Sri Lanka, India will look to regroup quickly and plug their loopholes as they go into the make or break match against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup on Sunday.
With back-to-back victories over Pakistan and India, Sri Lanka have virtually assured themselves of a berth in the final of the Asia Cup, and now it’s a two-way battle between the traditional rivals to be the other finalists in the five-nation tournament.
Both teams go into the match on an even keel, a win and one loss each, but the defending champions Pakistan have a slight edge as they have a bonus point in their kitty from their win against associate nation Afghanistan.
India registered a facile victory over hosts Bangladesh in their tournament opener but went down to Sri Lanka by two wickets Friday night. Pakistan were also beaten by a narrow 12-run margin by the same opponents in their opening match of the Asia Cup.
For India, it was Virat Kohli’s sparkling century that did the job against Bangladesh, while for Pakistan Umar Akmal’s timely ton saved them from what could have been an embarrassing loss to Afghanistan.
But the sheer importance of the contest will mean that the past records will have little relevance as the two teams look to renew their rivalry and take some brownie points.
A new look middle order’s lack of execution would be a concern for the Indian team and the team management might think of including Cheteshwar Pujara to bring in some solidity. With time running out fast for India in this tournament, it will be a riddle if Pujara continues to warm the bench.
Test specialist Pujara might not have been in the hard-hitting mould but he would be capable of providing the much needed stability, which was lacking in the Indian batting up against Sri Lanka.
It remains to be seen how India turn it around against their traditional foes tomorrow. Pakistan, on their part, will not spare an inch when the two clash for the first time after their meeting in the ICC Champions Trophy, which Dhoni’s men had won in a rain-affected match.
Pakistan, too, face similar batting woes and the onus would be on skipper Misbah-ul-Haq to start fresh after his farcical run out without even facing a ball.
Number three batsman, Mohammad Hafeez’s form will also prove to be crucial in a tense match like this, as also the match-winning allrounder Shahid Afridi, who continues to play mindless cricket.
It is their bowling spearheaded, Umar Gul and left-arm pacer Junaid Khan who would be relied upon heavily. But their spin department also has enough resources with the trio of Saeed Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi to challenge the Indian batsmen.
After five matches in Fatullah, the action now shifts to country’s premier venue — Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium — and both the teams will be watchful about the nature of the pitch.
Given the fact that dew plays a role towards the evening, both the teams will be looking to bowl first after winning the toss. With the ongoing tournament experiencing a cold response, the contest between the arch-rivals is expected to raise the spirits.
India: Virat Kohli(c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik(wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Amit Mishra, Varun Aaron, Ishwar Pandey
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq(c), Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal(wk), Shahid Afridi, Anwar Ali, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Talha, Abdur Rehman, Fawad Alam