Now that the two arch-rivals don’t play any bilateral series due to political reasons, India-Pakistan matches in international multi-nation tournaments add to the intrigue of the storied rivalry between the two cricketing superpowers.
India and Pakistan are set to clash in their Asia Cup opener at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on August 28. This will be match number 2 of the Asia Cup, which was shifted from Sri Lanka to the UAE due to the ongoing crisis in the island nation.
Both India and Pakistan have lost their pace spearheads Jasprit Bumrah and Shaheen Afridi to injuries but that won’t affect the spiciness and excitement that comes with an India-Pakistan encounter.
TimesofIndia.com here looks at some of the key player battles that can be the difference between victory and defeat and what you need to watch out for:
Virat Kohli vs Usman Qadir
Virat Kohli may be going through a lean patch by his own lofty standards, but underestimating the former Indian captain in a match as big will be a mistake Pakistan will not be wanting to make. India’s first match of the Asia Cup against Pakistan will be Kohli’s 100th T20I and he will be gunning more than anyone else to get a formidable score.
There’s no doubt that Virat Kohli really comes into his own while playing against Pakistan. He is the all-time leading run scorer in India vs Pakistan T20I clashes. So far, the two teams have played 9 T20I matches against each other, with India leading the head to head 6-2. One match ended in a tie, which India won via a bowl-out in the 2007 T20 World Cup.
Virat has played 7 T20Is against the men in green so far, scoring 311 runs with a highest score of 78* at an astonishing average of 77.75 and a strike rate of 118.25, with 3 half-centuries.
Kohli is yet to score a T20I hundred and there cannot be a better occasion than this to notch up that maiden T20I century and roar back to form.
But looking to stop Kohli from getting to that milestone would be the son of the legendary Abdul Qadir – Usman Qadir. Kohli would be extra cautious against all bowlers but leg spinners can always be tricky to deal with when the batsman is out of form and also looking to score quick runs.
The 29 year old Usman, who has a similar action like that of his late father, has not played any T20Is against India yet and would be looking to make an instant impression. Overall, Qadir has taken 24 wickets from 18 T20Is with a best of 4/13. He made his T20I debut against Zimbabwe at Rawalpindi in 2020.
It’s no secret that Virat has struggled against right arm wrist spinners. Opposition teams look to unleash a leg-spinner while Virat is still new at the crease. In 2020, Aussie leg-spinner Adam Zampa, who has traditionally troubled Virat quite a bit in limited overs cricket, was quoted as saying – ““We basically just found that Virat finds leg-spinners hard to line up early in his innings.”
While Virat has on more than one occasion found it difficult to read leg-spinners in T20I cricket, if he survives the initial attack, he can counter-attack the leggies too. Virat in fact has one of the best strike rates and averages against the leggies.
Virat vs Usman – a batter looking to score the big scores and silence his critics against a bowler who has the arsenal to trouble one of the best batters of this generation. Watch out for this key player battle.
Rohit Sharma vs Naseem Shah
India are not only the defending champions of the Asia Cup both in the ODI and T20I formats, but they also have the maximum Asia Cup titles to their name overall – 7.
The last Asia Cup edition was played in the ODI format in 2018 and Rohit Sharma had led India to the title in the absence of Virat Kohli who was rested for the tournament in the UAE.
And Rohit would be eager to repeat that success story this time around and for that India will have to make a winning start in the all-important game against the other big title contenders – Pakistan.
Rohit has been a colossal batting figure for India in T20Is having already scored 4 hundreds in the format – the most by any batsman in the world. He is a tried and tested match winner and being an opener can give his team priceless momentum if he gets going.
However, Rohit doesn’t have a very impressive T20I record against Pakistan having scored only 70 runs from 8 matches with a highest score of an unbeaten 30. Needless to say, the Indian captain will be looking to change a few of those statistics.
Rohit would be first up against pacer Naseem Shah who is known for his tearaway pace and the ability to swing and seam the ball. And Rohit, who can be slightly tentative early in his innings, needs to be extra cautious while facing Naseem. The Indian skipper can get caught on the backfoot at the beginning of his innings and Naseem will be aware of that. Rohit’s legs don’t move very well when he first gets to the crease and Naseem, who can scorch the pitch with his pace will be looking to peg Rohit back early on.
Though the 19-year-old Naseem has played 13 Tests and 3 ODIs, he is yet to play a T20I and what better opportunity will he get for a memorable debut than one against the arch-rivals. There’s no doubt that he will be itching to get rid of the Indian captain and one of the key batters in the blue jersey.
The teenager made his Test debut in 2019, but he is very new to the limited overs formats, having made his ODI debut in the recent series against the Netherlands. He returned figures of 3/51 in his 10 overs in his debut game.
There is a very high possibility that Naseem will be picked for Pakistan’s opening match vs India. A modern day batting legend vs a tearaway rookie – this is one match-up you would not want to miss.
Suryakumar Yadav vs Haris Rauf
Suryakumar Yadav had a relatively delayed start to his international career but is now the lynchpin of the Indian top order and among the only four Indian batsmen to have a T20I hundred against his name.
Known for his incredible 360 degree shot making prowess, Suryakumar was part of the Indian line-up that lost last year’s T20 World Cup match against Pakistan. He scored just 11 runs in that match smashing a six and a four. This time around having established himself as a potent force in T20Is, in which he has a strike rate of almost 176 to go with one century and five fifties, Suryakumar will be looking to put his wide array of shots on display on Sunday to vanquish the memories of that painful India defeat.
What sets SKY apart from many other batters is his ability to tackle both pace and spin well once he settles in. When he brought up his maiden T20I century against England some time back, he kept shuffling outside leg stump to make room for himself. When the bowler followed him, he effortlessly played either towards the leg-side or inside out shots towards the off-side.
SKY has come a long way from being a batter who didn’t really have off-side shots. But that is a thing of the past now, so much so that he is regularly compared with AB de Villiers – Mr. 360 degree himself.
Pakistan will know that if they are to limit the damage SKY can cause, they will have to get rid of him early. Enter – Right arm fast, Haris Rauf. Rauf has the ability to bowl in the high 140 kmph bracket and can also touch 150kmph plus. He can be a tough proposition to deal with when on song. In the 2021 T20 World Cup clash between India and Pakistan, Rauf got rid of Hardik Pandya for 11, dealing India a big body blow. What the men in green will remember about Suryakumar from that game is that he fell to Hasan Ali, a bowler not very unlike Rauf.
Rauf could be one of the bowlers tasked with rattling SKY early in his innings. Rauf has the ability to bowl unplayable bouncers and that is one weapon he might unleash against Surya if this player battle plays out.
So far in the 35 T20Is that Rauf has played, he has taken 42 wickets, with best figures of 4/22.
While SKY should have the upper hand, going by the form he has been in, if Rauf turns up the heat, we can have one very juicy match-up on our hands.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs Babar Azam
In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will have the added responsibility of striking early and preventing Pakistan from getting off to a fiery start.
With his ability to bring the ball back into right-handed batters, Bhuvneshwar will be a genuine threat to the Pakistan top order which will be led by their captain Babar Azam, currently among the best batters in the world.
Bhuvneshwar has played 4 T20Is overall against Pakistan, taking 5 wickets with a best of 3/9. Overall, Bhuvneshwar has 73 scalps from 72 T20Is with two four-wicket and one five-wicket haul.
Interestingly, Babar Azam has played only one T20I against India and led his team to victory with a magnificent unbeaten 68 in that T20 World Cup encounter last year, which no Indian fan would want to remember. Overall, Babar has a hundred and 26 half-centuries to his name in the 74 T20Is that he played, scoring 2686 runs.
Though he is almost unstoppable when on song, Babar has in the past been troubled by a bowler like Trent Boult, who has the ability to move the ball in the air. Bhuvi will definitely have that bit of knowledge tucked away at the back of his mind when he bowls to arguably the best batter in the Pakistan squad and the leader of their team. Watch out for this key player battle that promises to produce some very good cricket.
Ravindra Jadeja vs Mohammad Rizwan
In the T20 World Cup match that the archrivals last played, India had absolutely no answer against the rampaging Pakistan openers as Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam ran away with the match, cantering to a 10-wicket victory.
Team India, like any other quality side, would have learnt quite a few things from that painful loss. And one of them would have been, not to allow Rizwan to settle.
It would not be a surprise to see Rohit Sharma bring on Ravindra Jadeja early into the attack, with the new ball to unsettle someone like Rizwan. Jadeja has the ability to bowl fast through the air, hitting the same line and length regularly, and then suddenly throwing in a variation.
In the recent Test series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in July, one bowler who troubled Rizwan was left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya. Like Jayasuriya, Jadeja uses the delivery that goes straight on, the arm-ball, as a very useful variation, especially on turning tracks.
Jayasuriya, the man of the series in the 2 Test series vs Pakistan in July this year, in fact plotted Rizwan’s wicket in the second innings of the second Test which Sri Lanka won by 246 runs to level the series at 1-1 by bowling the arm-ball from closer to the stumps. Rizwan was expecting the ball to turn away, but it didn’t and crashed into his stumps.
And this bit of homework is something the Indian team would definitely have done to try and draw-up a bowling plan against Rizwan, who has fast become one of Pakistan’s most dependable and prolific batters.
With the great Adam Gilchrist as his idol, Rizwan is a free-flowing batsman who can turn the match on its head in the blink of an eye with his batting onslaught, which was quite evident when he smashed a 55-ball 79* with the help of 3 sixes and 6 fours in that T20 World Cup encounter against India.
Overall, Rizwan has played 56 T20Is with a century and 13 half-centuries to his credit at an average of 50.36 and a strike rate of 128.83.
Jadeja meanwhile has played 5 T20Is against Pakistan in which he has taken 4 wickets with a best of 2/11. Overall the Indian all-rounder has taken 50 wickets from 62 T20Is, with a best of 3/15.
Watch out for Jadeja vs Rizwan.
If the Indian bowlers manage to send back the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan back to the pavilion early, half of the job would be done for the Men in Blue, as the Pakistan middle order is still rather inexperienced.