The high octane clash between traditional rivals India and Pakistan will take place in a group match on Wednesday.
It took only two consecutive overseas tours to have India’s reputation as world no.1 side obliterated, almost instantly, and now that the Pandora’s box is open, bringing to light the technical and temperamental problems of the team, which we often overlook in the sub-continental conditions, a mix of frustration, anger and schadenfreude has crept in among the supports. Have we actually thrown in the towel? Perhaps not. But, like always, the forthcoming Asia Cup in Dubai with flat lifeless pitches will bring respite and the fans will again turn blind to the fact that India is still far away from becoming the best touring side in the world.
History, sadly, will not judge the current Indian team kindly as the series ended with the scoreline 4-1 on board. India might have shown grit and willingness to go for a win as was evident in the fourth innings of the last Test match it played, but their repeated failures to capitalise at crucial junctures and inability to the cross the finishing line has what made them somewhat susceptible and prone to defeats.
In a nutshell, failure to find the right mix and inability to perform with bat and bowl simultaneously has deprived them of winning tours outside Indian subcontinent. Previously, the best ranked sides like the once-mighty West Indies and Australia were almost unbeatable across formats and venues. The series is over now and as they say “let bygones be bygones”. Rather than pondering over what has already happened, why not just try to rectify mistakes and make best of what still remains?
And now the Indians find their next adventure in UAE. Asia’s biggest carnival, the Asia Cup, is among the very few multi-nation tournaments where India meets their arch rival Pakistan. They will also lock horns with other Asian giants like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India last played Pakistan at the Champions Trophy finals. In what could be flat decks and dry wickets, much of the series will be characterised by hot, humid and muggy days, much to the relief of Men In Blue. India will start their campaign on 18th September against Hong Kong and face Pakistan on the very next day.
The high octane clash between the traditional rivals takes place in a group stage match on Wednesday and the team will look to fill some missing pieces after their loss to England in the three-match series. Virat Kohli may have been rested because of his hectic workload but that doesn’t take the sheen of this India side, which will be captained by swashbuckling opening batsman Rohit Sharma. There is no hair in the soup when it comes to white ball cricket, for India is a much better side when it comes to One Day Internationals (ODIs).
The opening slot is one of best in the world but middle order conundrum may haunt the playing eleven even as the bowling department looks quite settled and the addition of Bhuvneshwar Kumar will bolster the attack even more. With flat pitches on offer, the time is ripe for the former captain MS Dhoni to find his Midas’ touch and show why he is still the best bet on the cricket field.
Inclusion of middle order batsmen Manish Pandey after his successful stint with India B and Ambati Raidu will test their batting prowess as the team looks forward to boost its bench strength. It will be a big opportunity for another returnee Kedhar Jadhav to prove his might. Such is the schedule of the tournament that the players, especially the fast bowlers, may struggle to keep their spirit up and maintain their fitness. The mental adjustment in this packed schedule will be the key for the players going in for the tournament. In left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, India will definitely fancy their chances to topple the opposition.
It will be a fair call to say that despite being the strongest side on paper, Pakistan may be the favourites to win the cup as the venues are almost like a home base to them. India last played here in 2006. Also, Pakistan team boasts itself with a quality seam attack in Mohammed Aamir and all-rounder Hasan Ali. If their batting gets going, it will be a tall order for the Indians get past them.
There are two assured India-Pakistan matches—one in the group league and other at the Super Four stage. The organisers, broadcasters and the supporters will be hoping for a possible summit showdown on September 28 too. Among few positives, India will count on its previous performances, having won the Asia cup six times, most by any team. They have also finished runners-up thrice, making it the most successful team of the tournament.
Now is the time for a good showing to build momentum and confidence, especially after a grueling England tour as India will be heading for another overseas tour in Australia. But if they slog their way to another uninspiring defeat in favourable conditions, well, they may have some major problems.