One of the fiercest rivalries in all nation vs nation team sport takes place on Wednesday when India and Pakistan face off at Dubai International Stadium in match five of the 2018 Asia Cup Tournament. While players in both teams routinely face intense pressure to win and can be threatened by extreme reactions in defeat, at the same time, India-Pakistan cricket offers opportunities for cricket diplomacy as a means to improve relations between the two neighbouring countries.
The last ODI contest between these two teams (which was estimated to have been watched by over 400 million people) was the final of the 2017 ICC Trophy in which Pakistan cruised to a massive 180-run victory.
The big question mark for India entering this match is how they have recuperated after a tough match against Hong Kong. What was expected to be simply an extended practice session turned into a scrap for survival and at 174/0, the Anshuman Rath-led team gave Rohit Sharma and co a massive fright. But once the wickets started flowing, Hong Kong finally faltered and India won by 26 runs.
With Hong Kong already knocked out of the tournament, both these teams are assured qualification for the Super Four stage. And considering there is a strong chance these teams will face off twice more this tournament, this match is about bragging rights ‘right now’ for both teams supporters.
Even though Virat Kohli has been rested for this tournament, with the likes of Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni in the line-up, there will definitely be nothing missing when it comes to the team’s on and off field leadership.
While Pakistan enter the match on a six-match ODI winning streak, the quality of opposition (five games against Zimbabwe and one against Hong Kong) probably covers over some of the cracks in the team’s fielding and bowling department.
Undoubtedly the batting line up for the current Pakistan ODI team is their strong suit with five players having a batting average of 50 plus - Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Babar Azam, Asif Ali and Shadab Khan.
Players to watch: Jasprit Bumrah had a match to forget in last year's ICC Trophy finishing with bowling figures of 0/68 from nine overs - the worst performance of his career. That effort included five wides and three no balls. Ouch!
Fakhar Zaman scored his first ODI century (114 off 106 balls) when these two teams last played. Amazingly he enters this game with a batting average of 103.00 from his last five at bats.
Stat attack: In all completed matches, Tests / ODIs and T20s (excluding draws or games with a no result), surprisingly Pakistan hold a comfortable 91 - 62 advantage. In H2H ODI matches at neutral venues, the record is 40-30 in favour of Pakistan. Yet in the last 27 ODI encounters, India hold a 17-10 advantage.
Rohit Sharma has a career ODI batting average of 44.91 but that drops to 34.75 against Pakistan. While, Pakistan’s Babar Azam has a fabulous batting average of 62.33 at Dubai International Stadium.
Whatever the outcome is from the India vs Pakistan clash, it is guaranteed that the match will be a mouthwatering affair for the cricketing fans.