Pakistan vs India: Sher-e-Bangla braces for Asia Cup’s biggest clash

DHAKA: It is being dubbed as a contest between Pakistan’s bowlers and India’s batsmen. But beneath the many layers of obvious strengths and weaknesses, lies the ability of both teams to conjure up something special for the biggest battle in cricket.

It has been 377 days since the two teams last faced off in what was the 2015 World Cup’s most anticipated clash.

This time it is a battle for continental supremacy in the shortest format but their will be no shortage of fireworks as Pakistan and India meet in the Asia Cup T20 at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, Mirpur on Saturday.

India’s strength lie in their strong batting order, with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the top, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina to follow, and then the floater: Yuvraj Singh.

Hardik Pandya if India would have a strategy to go aggressive right from the first ball, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni for all of that and everything else.

If too many quick wickets are lost early in the innings, then India has Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandaran Ashwin lower down to prop things up.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has a five-man pace battery, bowlers of such ability that Shahid Afridi would be hard-pressed to decide who to leave out.

During the New Zealand series last month, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz were responsible to lead Pakistan’s pace attack. But now it seems Afridi won’t be out of options.

In place of Umar Gul, who failed to impress selectors to be considered for Pakistan squad, Mohammad Irfan will be there. And to add to the already strong bowling attack, Pakistan has, in their ranks, Mohammad Sami, too — a last-minute replacement for injured Rumman Raees.

As Afridi said yesterday, a four-man pace operation cannot be ruled out, with a final call taken only after a view of the pitch come match day afternoon.

Afridi himself will be in the fray with his quick leg-spin, while Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz, the uncapped 21-year-old, provide more spin options.

Obviously, there’s more to both the teams than just that.

“They will try to score heavily, but we also have strength in our batting; the batsmen are looking good coming from the PSL,” said Afridi.

Rohit Sharma, when his turn came, countered, “We have good spinners and seamers, too.”

India has had the better time of it in the T20 exchanges between the two teams over the years, winning five and losing only one.

Recent results, a 3-0 series win in Australia and a 2-1 win over Sri Lanka at home before beating Bangladesh in the Asia Cup opener also indicates stability and momentum, an intangible that does play a role in T20 cricket.

But, as Afridi stressed, playing the Pakistan Super League over the past many days has been a boon for the Pakistan players, who are T20-fit at the moment.

“Not playing together for Pakistan in the last few days is not going to be an issue because they have played for different franchises in the PSL, they are all together.”

It’s game on then – probably the only one not featuring Bangladesh that will be played to a packed house at the Sher-e-Bangla.

All that remains is for the thundershowers that have been forecast to stay away long enough