Can India tame Pakistan in the Middle East?
A palpable sense of excitement has engulfed the cricketing realm with the battle of the arch-rivals India and Pakistan scheduled to take place on September 19, 2018. With nail-biting finishes and edge-of-the-seat thrillers guaranteed in every contest that unfurls between the two nations, expectations are rocket-high for the fifth game of the Asia Cup as well.
The two sides have faced each other 12 times in the tournament, with India inching ahead with 6 wins and Pakistan coming close with 5 victories under their belt. However, with a fiery group of fast bowlers, the death knells seemed to have sounded for the Indian squad, with most fanatics and experts granting Pakistan a huge advantage over their neighbours. The Sarfaraz Ahmed-led side is coming into the match with a six match-unbeaten streak and their recent upsurge in form, ever since the Champions Trophy last year, ensures that they are the dark horses for the encounter.
Yet, it would always be a foolish assumption to rule out the Indian side, who even without Virat Kohli, will be a formidable rival on the cricket field.
Truckloads of experience
Talent and promise will always stoop before experience and this is where the Indian side races ahead. With Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the side for an aeon, and with the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu not novices either, the side is jam-packed with cricketers who have faced the most terrifying oppositions in the most adverse conditions.
The trio of Dhoni, Dhawan and Rohit have played 609 ODI games combined, which is 48 games more than what the entire Pakistani unit that fielded against Hong Kong have played together. With a number of young stars and cricketers who have debuted in the last 12 months, most cricketers from Pakistan have not been thrown in tense situations, which can prove to be a liability during the game. Any clash between India and Pakistan traditionally evokes a great sense of emotional maturity, which Fakhar Zaman displayed to the hilt in the Champions Trophy Final when he ran away to a match-winning ton. However, when the team landed in New Zealand, they were unable to tackle the pace and the bounce of the Kiwi fast bowlers, and ended up losing the ODI series 0-5.
Although they have decimated Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the ODIs, the two sides are hardly competitive in the modern era and while Pakistan are a force to reckon with in the T20I format, they still have leaps to cross before adorning the garb of invincibility in ODIs. The Indians, on the other hand, are expected to stroll across any crunch moment without an ounce of pressure, and in an all-important clash, this amounts to a lot.
Facing Kuldeep Yadav and Chahl for the first time
Ever since the duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have entered the fray in the ODI national team, the Indian squad have been riding high on their success. Kuldeep, in particular, has been vastly impressive when playing against a side for the first time, and with him playing Pakistan for the first time on 19th, the batsmen from the rival team should be wary.
Kuldeep picked up 3 wickets against the Windies when he played them at Port of Spain last year, and then picked up 2 against the Lankans when he turned out against them for the first time a few weeks later. He picked up 2 wickets against Australia in the first ODI game he played against them, and then followed it up with a hattrick in his second outing against the Kangaroos. Though he managed to pick just a single wicket against the Black Caps, 3 wickets against South Africa and a further 6 in the first ODI against England shows how menacing he can be when the opponents are facing him for the first time.
Hence, the odds are in his favour for a successful return against Pakistan as well, and with Chahal stalling the flow of runs in the middle overs from the other end, Kuldeep can prove to be a match-winner. Also, Pakistan fare at an average of 37 against left-arm spinners historically, which is much worse than the average of 41 against right-hand spinners, so the Indian chinaman bowler can hope to bamboozle his rivals and run away with the game again.
Ability to handle pressure
The one thing that has come to define the Indians since the advent of the IPL is that the players are more battle-hardened due to the consistency with which they play in pressure games in the multi-city tournament. With the ability to hit even the best international bowlers out of the park when the time comes calling, or the skills to upset the wickets of the most technical batter, the Indian youngsters hardly shy away from tackling tough situations. With Dhoni’s calmness and Kohli’s chasing power rubbing onto the squad as well, the Indians have grown up in an environment where battles are faced head-on.
Though the Champions Trophy Final might suggest otherwise, bad days can come calling any international side, but to expect a repetition yet again seems wishful. One can instead be geared up for an interesting battle, but to suggest that India will be the underdogs is mere hyperbole.