New Delhi: When Rohit Sharma will probably face Mohammad Amir at Mirpur’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium on Saturday, a battle royale will start between two traditional rivals of the gentleman’s game. In a contest where nerves hold sway, India will gun for revenge against Pakistan. (Asia Cup 2016: All Eyes on Mohammad Amir as India Clash With Pakistan)
Although twenty20 history favours India, statistics have little relevance in a clash between India and Pakistan, irrespective of the format.
However, the last time India faced Pakistan in an Asia Cup encounter in Dhaka in 2014, Shahid Afridi smashed two sixes off Ravichandran Ashwin to break India’s heart. In a thrilling finish to a 50-over contest, Afridi’s 18-ball 34 not out stole MS Dhoni’s thunder with two balls remaining.
Pakistan went on to play the Asia Cup final but lost to Sri Lanka, who equalled India’s record of five championship titles.
In 12 editions of the Asia Cup, it’s been 5-5 in head-to-head clashes between India and Pakistan. Interestingly, India and two-time champions Pakistan have never clashed in a final.
The 2016 edition was turned to a twenty20 format to help teams prepare for the ICC World Twenty20 in India next month. The format should see some interesting contests as batting seems to be India’s greatest strength against an array of pace bowlers in the Pakistan camp. Here’s a look at five key battles.
Rohit Sharma vs Mohammad Amir
All eyes will be on Mohammad Amir and he is in good form. Amir, who was banned for spot-fixing in 2011, made a strong international comeback against New Zealand. In the two ODIs against the Kiwis, Amir picked up five wickets with a best of 3/28 in Wellington. However, in three Twenty20 matches, the left-arm pacer just picked up one wicket. (Asia Cup Twenty20: India Not Worried About Pakistan’s Pace Attack, Says Rohit Sharma)
Amir had a good Pakistan Super League as well. He picked up a hattrick for Karachi Kings. Amir took an impressive 86 wickets in four-day and Twenty20 domestic matches that impressed national selectors who included him on the tour of New Zealand. But he will be up against an Indian batsman who is in the form of his life – Rohit Sharma
Rohit has started off the Asia Cup with a bang, smashing a brilliant 83 off just 55 balls against Bangladesh. He had a stunning run in Australia before that, scoring 441 runs that included two centuries and one half-century from five ODI games. In the three T20 games against Australia, Rohit was third in the top run-getters’ list with 143 runs. This included two half-centuries.
Virat Kohli vs Wahab Riaz
Virat Kohli has been in prime form and has been India’s most consistent batsman in recent times. Kohli, like Rohit, was the pick of Indian batsmen during the Australia series. Kohli scored 381 runs with two tons and two half-centuries in five ODIs. He maintained his form in the three Twenty20s where he was the top-scorer of the series with 199 runs, with a best of 90.
Wahab Riaz had a great PSL with Peshawar Zalmi and was the second best bowler with 15 wickets from nine matches. Riaz has emerged as the leader of the pack and most Pakistani fans would definitely remember the spell he bowled to Australia’s Shane Watson in the World Cup last year.
Shahid Afridi vs Ravichandran Ashwin
Now for many, this would be an odd comparison. But if you look closely, nobody has had a devastating effect with the bat as Shahid Afridi has had. For the heartbreak inflicted on India in the last Asia Cup in 2014 in Dhaka, Ashwin will be looking for revenge against the explosive Pakistani captain.
Afridi has always been a thorn in India’s flesh, and with a relatively inexperienced batting line-up, Afridi’s role could be crucial with the bat. He has had a mediocre PSL, but he is a big match player and knows how to step up. Sans Saeed Ajmal, Afridi is expected to lead Pakistan’s spin department. In the PSL, leading Peshawar Zalmi, Afridi picked up 10 wickets at an economy of 6.59.
Ashwin has been by far the best off-spinner in the world at the moment. He had a mediocre ODI series Down Under, but back in India in the Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka, he was again at his devastating best. Against Lankans, Ashwin picked up nine wickets from the three Twenty20 with a best of 4/8 in the third game in Visakhapatnam.
Ravindra Jadeja vs Umar Akmal
Ravindra Jadeja’s comeback into the side has been phenomenal. He along with Ashwin decimated South Africans in the Test matches. Then in the shorter version of the game, the Saurashtra star has been amongst runs that gave MS Dhoni the luxury to play with two spinners in the XI. In the three Twenty20 matches versus Lanka, Jadeja picked up three wickets. In Australia, however, Jadeja struggled. He picked just three wickets from five ODI games. In three T20 games, Jadeja came up with a better show picking up five wickets with a best of 2/21 at the Adelaide Oval.
Umar Akmal has been in awesome form in the PSL. He was the leading run-scorer with 335 runs from seven matches with a best of 93. What makes Akmal so dangerous in this format is his international experience. He has played for Guyana Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League and Leicestershire in England.
Hardik Pandya vs Mohammad Irfan
India’s new sensation Hardik Pandya will face a tall order against Mohammad Irfan. Pandya has struck the right notes in the Asia Cup. He scored 31 off just 18 balls and along with Rohit Sharma, added 61 runs in just 27 balls to decimate Bangladesh bowling attack.
However, Mohammad Irfan will be unlike any other Pandya would have faced so far. The tall and burly Pakistani pacer can extract good bounce off the pitch and that will test a free-stroking Pandya.
Irfan, like his peers, has been in good form and played in the final of the PSL for Islamabad United. Irfan picked up seven wickets from six matches. He has a good yorker, a deadly weapon in the death overs.