“Andar se ek vibe atta hai, yeh game mein karna hi hai. Ek memory ban jaati hai lifetime ke liye. (We feel extra motivation for this game. If you do well, you cherish it for lifetime).”
As expressed by India star Ravindra Jadeja in the build-up on Star Sports to Saturday’s game, an India versus Pakistan game is an experience like no other in the world of cricket, for players and fans alike.
One of the most heated and passionate rivalries in the world of sports, it will witness another chapter when India take on red-hot Pakistan at the Pallekele International Stadium in their Asia Cup 2023 opener.
Always an emotionally-charged event, these games make for compulsive watching not just due to the historic rivalry but also because it is a clash between two highly skilfull outfits. On display will be batting geniuses of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam; the incisive pace bowling of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohmmed Shami/Mohammed Siraj versus the searing pace of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah; the guile of spin aces Kuldeep Yadav and Shahad Khan. Add to that, mercurial personalities like Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Rizwan, you have a superb starcast for a blockbuster contest.
Given the high stakes involved, form is less important than temperament. The nerves can get the better of some, on the other hand those who hold their wits are able to raise their game to greater heights.
Sticking to the same combination for a while now, Pakistan is a well-settled unit with all their players’ roles clearly defined. They hold an edge over India on this point.
India skipper Rohit Sharma acknowledged the opposition’s good form heading into this tournament. “Pakistan have played really well in recent times in both T20Is and ODIs. They worked really hard to be No.1 (ranked ODI side) and it’ll be a good challenge for us,” said Rohit.
The most anticipated clash of the game will be Pakistan’s pace attack of Afridi, Shah and Haris Rauf against India’s top-order of Rohit, Gill and Kohli.
Asked about the threat of the Pakistan pace attack, Rohit said that the team would bank on experience to counter the pace trio. “Look, in the nets, we don’t have Shaheen, Naseem or Rauf. We practice with who we have. They are all quality bowlers. We just have to use our experience to play them tomorrow,” the India captain said.
TESTING GROUND FOR INDIA
On the other hand, India’s preparations have been hit by a series of injuries. This tournament is a testing ground for them to see how their returning players cope with actual match play ahead of the World Cup selection. Against Pakistan, the performance of Bumrah and Shreyas Iyer in particular will be keenly watched. Iyer will be playing his first international game after undergoing lower back surgery while Bumrah is playing his first 50 overs game after making a comeback from surgery in the T20 series in Ireland.
If picked, pacer Prasidh Krishna will also be looking to prove his fitness for 50 overs game.
Pakistan are well acclimatised after playing three ODIs against Afghanistan in Sri Lanka before the Asia Cup. Their players also had good match practice in the tournament opener against Nepal in Multan.
There’s no doubt which wicket the Pakistan bowlers will covet the most. Almost every game, Virat Kohli has proven to be a thorn in their flesh. We need to look no further than their last match — the 2022 T20 World Cup tie at Melbourne when he took India to an improbable victory with a heroic unbeaten 82, from a hopeless 31/4. In his last four ODIs against Pakistan, his run of scores is 77, 5, 81 not out and 107. His career-best 183 not out is against them, at the 2012 Asia Cup.
It should help Kohli and Co that they are coming straight from a grueling six-day preparatory camp.
Ishan Kishan is set to play the wicketkeeper-middle order batter’s role in a like-for-like role in place of KL Rahul, who is unavailable for the first two games.
Looking at the bigger goal of World Cup preparation, both captains know a real, hard contest against each other will provide perfect practice for the blue riband ICC event in October-November.