Even when Pakistan does well at major tournaments, it does so from a point of adversity. Let's hark back to the team's trio of crown jewels: the 1992 World Cup, the 2009 World T20 and the 2017 Champions Trophy

In '92, they lost rising stars Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis to injuries prior to the tournament, and won just one of their first five games before turning it around.

In '17, they were so hopelessly out of form and down low in the rankings, they almost didn't make it to the now defunct tournament.

In '09 too there must have been something, considering this is Pakistan we're talking about.

But the problems that beset Pakistan are rarely felt by their Indian counterparts, whose teams have always been well-run, professionally managed units, even more so ahead of major cricketing events.

Read: 5 takeaways from Pakistan's blowout victory over Hong Kong

This is where the Asia Cup 2018 and today's meeting between the two arch-rival is different.

Pakistan entered the six-team tournament on the back of a calm that is absolutely not their hallmark. The training camp went smoothly, no one got injured, there was no bickering over team selection and there are no two groups clashing for the control of the dressing room.

Team Pakistan is going through an uncharacteristic calm — AFP
Team Pakistan is going through an uncharacteristic calm — AFP

The last series they took part in prior to the Asia Cup, they ended up annihilating Zimbabwe 5-0 in arguably the most one-sided one-day series ever. As meaningless as that series may have been, it helped Sarfraz and co identify their best combinations before the going gets tough.

In the crazy world of Pakistan cricket, for once, everything is copacetic.

In an equally surprising turn of events, the mood in the opposite camp appears to be matching their kit colour. For India, the Asia Cup comes on the back of a long, tiring tour of England that has emotionally and physically drained them.

The world's top-ranked Test side had embarked on that tour confident of at least coming away with a draw — something Pakistan routinely does when it visits those shores. However, a 4-1 drubbing in the five-day format, which followed a 2-1 series defeat in the ODIs, has taken its toll on the side's spirits.

The selectors only opted to rest team's talismanic captain Virat Kohli for the Asia Cup, but its quite plausible that the entire team would have done the same, had the offer to go home been extended to them as well.

It makes sense too. When things go as ugly as they went for India in England, it warrants a period of soul-searching. It certainly doesn't warrant an even more rigorous battle, that too under the unforgiving UAE sun and against opponents where losing is not an option ... at least not after what transpired on June 18, 2017.

Read: ‘Champions Trophy final loss to keep India under pressure in Asia Cup

Yet India, without their most important player but with their coach under pressure, without fresh legs but with their shoulders heavy from the nation's expectations, are in Dubai where they will have to take on Pakistan in their Group A, Asia Cup 2018 match.

Sharma dives for the ball during the match between Hong Kong and India — AFP
Sharma dives for the ball during the match between Hong Kong and India — AFP

Lending more credence to this narrative is India's super lethargic win over Hong Kong last night. Let this sink in that the Hong Kongese were 174-0 before the fear of humiliation forced Rohit Sharma's men to get serious.

What we know so far is that an already deflated Indian side will be playing their second 50-over match in as many days, against a well-rested, well-prepared Pakistan outfit today.

Look closely and you'll find that as of right now, Pakistan look more like India, and India look more like Pakistan. The tables have turned, the roles switched.

The difference is that Pakistan has a history of defying logic and exceeding expectations. Chaos, adversity, despair — that's life for the Men in Green. For the Men in Blue, this is uncharted territory.

Question is: can they pull a Pakistan?



Updated 28 May, 2022

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