Asia Cup Preview: India face Pakistan for continental supremacy
Stung by the upset defeat against minnows Bangladesh, India will be under immense pressure when they go into their must-win last Asia Cup league match against arch-rivals Pakistan here on Sunday with bowling in the slog overs continuing to be a big worry.
If India had beaten Bangladesh, their match against Pakistan would have been a preview to the final. Thanks to their inept bowling in the dying stages of their previous match, and some fearless Bangladesh batting, this tournament is still open. No team has bowed out of the tournament yet, including Sri Lanka, who are yet to open their account. If India and Bangladesh win their remaining games with bonus points, it will leave three teams tied on nine points, meaning the finalists will be decided on net run-rate. If the same two teams win without bonus points, then Bangladesh will go through because they beat India in the head-to-head. A win, tie, no-result, or even a loss without conceding a bonus point, for Pakistan tomorrow will guarantee them a place in the final.
Bangladesh's stunning turnaround has given tomorrow's clash greater context. The encounter promises to live up to the tournament's top-billing because these teams have hardly played each other, due to political reasons. India trumped Pakistan in the semi-final of the World Cup, so Pakistan have a score to settle. Despite being drubbed by England in the one-day series in the UAE, they still look a far more settled unit than India.
The gulf between the two teams lies in the bowling. Both attacks are spin-heavy, but Pakistan's is a league ahead in terms of experience and penetration, with the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi. Ajmal's doosras derailed Sri Lanka in the batting Powerplay and from that point on Sri Lanka were playing catch-up. India failed to run through the Bangladesh batting but they were still well-placed to defend 290. Swinging yorkers from Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan gave India a sniff, but the consistency was lacking. Yorkers made way for length deliveries and full tosses, which were either muscled over the ropes or sliced over point.
India's top order looks more reliable than Pakistan's, with their top three each having scored a century in the tournament. Sachin Tendulkar may well play with the kind of freedom missing over the last 12 months, after getting the monkey off his back. The Pakistan top order didn't look fluent against Sri Lanka, and the slow run-rate early led them to throw away their wickets.
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In the spotlight
Ravindra Jadeja is yet to justify the US$2million contract he earned from Chennai Super Kings with performances on the field. He underperformed in the Commonwealth Bank series with both bat and ball, though his fielding remains an asset. He was not used much as a bowler and failed to convert his opportunities with the bat, struggling to clear the bigger Australian grounds. There have been calls for the big-hitting Yusuf Pathan to replace him. However, Jadeja offers the variety of left-arm spin, to go with three offspinners.
Fifteen, 5, 12, 2 - scores you would not normally associate with Younis Khan. His last ODI half-century came against Afghanistan, and he has struggled against quality opposition. His shot-selection against Sri Lanka was poor; he attempted an extravagant flick to midwicket and ended up chipping it to mid-on. With Asad Shafiq in the reserves, Younis will have to justify his place with a big score. He is too experienced to endure a prolonged slump.
Misbah-ul-Haq's calm presence is the reason for Pakistan's upswing, and they would not want to lose his services for a crucial game because of a slow over-rate. The Pakistan captain will be suspended for one game if his side makes another transgression in the next 12 months after the team fell two overs short of the target against Sri Lanka. For tips on how to ensure a quick over-rate, Misbah would rather not consult his counterpart MS Dhoni, who has already been banned for a Test and ODI in recent months for the same offence.
Pitch and conditions
It rained in Mirpur the evening before the game but the forecast for Sunday suggests a full game should be possible. Should weather intervene, there is a reserve-day on Monday, and if the game cannot be held at all both sides will take two points.
Bat first or field? Going by the mixed results, it's hard to tell. Opinions on whether the pitches get slower or better for batting in the evening have varied. The team defending a target will also have to watch out for possible dew. After Bangladesh's heist, the captains may back their teams to chase down any target.
Ashok Dinda was all over the place against Bangladesh, going for 38 off 5.2 overs, so India could consider bringing back Vinay Kumar, if he recovers from injury. There's still no indication that Manoj Tiwary, who has warmed the bench for so long he may have set it on fire, will get a game.
India 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 MS Dhoni, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Yusuf Pathan, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Ashok Dinda/R Vinay Kumar, 11 Praveen Kumar
With Shahid Afridi not in the best of form with the bat, Pakistan are likely to play an extra batsman, with Umar Akmal taking the wicketkeeping gloves.
Pakistan 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Umar Akmal (wk), 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Hammad Azam, 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema