Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam pose for photograph with trophy | ANI
Dubai: The Asia Cup Twenty20 is all set to witness high-voltage stuff in the Super 4 stage of the tournament when India takes on Pakistan for the second time in seven days. After a week of action in the preliminary stage, the main two teams have taken their appointed places, but Bangladesh finds itself on the sidelines.
It could not hold its nerves and lost a nail-baiter against Sri Lanka in the do-or-die match for both teams, and Bangladesh was eliminated from the tournament proper. Then Afghanistan caused the biggest surprise by outwitting Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to storm into the Super 4 league. Regarded as a no-hoper before the tournament got going after the qualifier tournament held in Muscat, Afghanistan, with a superb spin attack, sent a message that it has the ability to take on the mighty as well.
But the tournament that thrives on the rivalry of the Asian giants, India and Pakistan, will see another clash between the two sides at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday. A full house was a witness to the previous match here last Sunday, and local India and Pakistani supporters are likely to throng the venue once again to take the thrill out of a needle match. The tournament’s entire marketing strategy pivots on the India – Pakistan matches, and the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) seems to have done extremely well to rope in DP World as the title sponsor and other top-notch corporates like Skoda, Dream11, Hero, EaseMyTrip, Goldmedal, Hettich and Black & White (Ginger Ale).
The supporters of India and Pakistan could not have asked for more with two back-to-back matches rostered on Sundays. They could meet a third time, should they perform well in the Super 4 stage and advance to the final. On the eve of the first match last Sunday (August 28), both the captains, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam, did their utmost to downplay the hype and hoopla around the match between the arch-rivals in Asia and that they take every match between them as a normal game.
India did have a point to prove though, when the two teams met in the last year’s brush between two sides in the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup. Pakistan did not break a sweat in that match once left-arm seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi caused the downfall of Sharma and K. L. Rahul with exceptional deliveries sent down from over the wicket. On that occasion, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant put up more than a semblance of a fight, but the Pakistan openers Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam made short work of the target set by India, scoring 152 runs without losing a wicket.
Last Sunday, though, Pakistan did not have the services of Afridi (Pakistan is keeping its fingers crossed about his availability for the World Cup), because of an injury that has ruled him out for six weeks. But Pakistan showcased its brightest fast bowling talent in Naseem Shah. The 19-year-old dismissed Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav in style, but thanks to a terrific show of defiance and smart batting by Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya, India prevailed over its opponent by five wickets.
The next match did not turn out to be a walk in the park for India against Hong Kong, but they were in full control of the match once Yadav scored a 26-ball 68 with six 4s and as many 6s. And Jadeja’s direct hit run out of the Hong Kong captain Nizakat Khan paved the way for India to hold sway over the match.
On Friday, Pakistan crushed Hong Kong by 155 runs, skittling out the qualifier for a mere 38 runs. Once the youthful exuberance of Shah showed up when dismissing openers Nizakat Khan and Babar Hayat, Hong Kong simply caved in and Pakistan, by virtue of this expected win, advanced to the next stage.
The four teams in the fray in the Super 4 stage are India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The top two teams in the round-robin league will clash in the final on September 11. India suffered a big jolt on Friday when Jadeja was ruled out of the tournament because of a vulnerable knee. He has been replaced by left-arm spinner and hitter, Axar Patel. What sort of combination Sharma brings in is a matter of conjecture, but someone like Deepak Hooda may get a chance. He has a century in the shortest format.
It is in the Super 4 stage that India’s full batting lineup may get a chance to come into the picture at the back end of the innings and the likes of Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik will get opportunities to exhibit their freewheeling batting ways. So far medium pacer Avesh Khan has proved to be a weakling and it has to be seen what Sharma does following the non-availability of Jadeja. India would also hope for a bright start from Sharma and Rahul in order to give the team momentum against a very competent side in Pakistan.