Dubai: The India-Pakistan match at the Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday has generated huge interest among fans. The two teams are facing off for the first time since the ICC Champions Trophy Final in June last year. So, today’s game is sold out, notwithstanding the fact that the minimum ticket price is 150 AED (Rs 3,000 approx).
The buzz in Dubai cricket circles on Tuesday centred around Imran Khan. The Pakistan Prime Minister embarked on a two-day state visit to Saudi Arabia today. On his way home on Wednesday, a stop-off in Abu Dhabi is scheduled.
Grapevine has it that Imran might also take a trip to Dubai for a few hours to catch a glimpse of the India-Pakistan Asia Cup game. And there’s no confirmation yet from official sources here. But the rumour mills went into overdrive, so much so that even Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed was asked during his pre-match presser about Imran’s possible visit.
Experience has always played a big part in this battle royale; be it Javed Miandad’s match-winning last-ball six at Sharjah in 1986 or Sachin Tendulkar’s blazing 75-ball 98 in the 2003 World Cup at Centurion in 2003.
Of late though, Virat Kohli has towered over the rest in India-Pakistan matches. In the 2015 World Cup game in Adelaide, Kohli hammered 107 in India’s 76-run victory.
Last year, in the Champions Trophy group match in Birmingham, the India captain scored an unbeaten 81 in his team’s 124-run victory. Kohli fell cheaply in the final and Pakistan won by 180 runs to lift the Champions Trophy.
Shikhar Dhawan could be short of confidence, irrespective of his fluent show against Hong Kong on Tuesday. Kohli has opted out of the Asia Cup and India’s middle order looks fragile. At the top, Shikhar Dhawan was struggling to put bat to ball in England. The left-hander could be short of confidence, irrespective of his fluent show against Hong Kong on Tuesday. So, the onus will be on stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma and Dhoni. Rohit has a decent record in ODIs against Pakistan – 13 matches, 417 runs at 34.75.
Rohit Sharma, who is warming Kohli’s throne for the moment, was candid in his assessment before the match against Hong Kong.
While conceding that the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 6 spots were up for grabs, Rohit disagreed when it was suggested that the top order was not gelling well. Rather, he said, it was a chance for someone to claim a spot with one good inning.
Kohli slots in at four, Mahendra Singh Dhoni at five, but who between Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Kartik, Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav fills these slots.
Rayudu is a 50-over monster in that he always scores. Any chance he gets he grabs. But he does not push the envelope in the manner that modern 50-over cricket demands. While he averages more than 50, he scores his runs at a strike rate of only 76.
Dinesh Karthik always looks like the man for the job, especially when he is fighting his way back to the Indian team, but he has been used as a floater in different positions for so long that it’s hard to tell if he even knows what sort of game he should play.
Kedar Jadhav has proven he can be an explosive finisher in Twenty20 cricket, but is that the only role he can play? Manish Pandey appears to have every shot in the game and then a few, but he frustrates by not capitalising when given the chance.
And then there is KL Rahul, who went from long-form player to T20 dasher, and you have to wonder where he fits into this jigsaw puzzle.
If it seems like India are spoilt for choices, this is not quite true. There is talent aplenty but not one of these players knows which spot he is auditioning for and therefore how he should play. And what awaits them? Only Pakistan in a crunch match.
Hong Kong did not merely scare India in India’s 26-run win, they provided Rohit’s team with the kind of reality check that requires a long, hard look in the mirror and much more after.
When India plays Pakistan there will be no room for error, and even less space to say that cricket was the winner.