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DUBAI: In the first round of Asia Cup, defending champions India landed the first blow. Result — Pakistan were knocked out cold as the side led by Sarfraz Ahmed suffered an eight-wicket defeat last Sunday in a match that proved to be a completely one-sided contest despite all the hype.

But Sarfraz will have a chance to redeem himself. The bell will be rung again on Sunday and Round 2 will begin as the two fierce rivals square off once again but this time with much higher stakes at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. In their second Super Four contest, India will be hoping for another win to continue their perfect run against a Pakistan side that is yet to showcase their best.

After their seven-wicket win over Bangladesh on Friday, skipper Rohit Sharma will march confidently to face another challenge on Sunday. On the other hand, Sarfraz will feel the need to tighten a few strings together especially after a last-over escape against Afghanistan.

Replacing Hardik Pandya midway in the tournament after the all-rounder sustained a back injury in the previous encounter against Pakistan, Ravindra Jadeja dismantled Bangladesh’s middle order, taking four wickets in his first ODI in over 14 months. The gap left by Pandya was solved with one masterstroke from Sharma.

With Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan in sublime form at top of the order, and Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu delivering decent performances in the middle, it remains unlikely India will make any changes to the side against Pakistan.

Seamers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been exceptional, both with the new ball and in the death overs. While Kumar took three wickets against both Bangladesh and Pakistan, Bumrah took three against the former and two against Pakistan.

And even though Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal did not take a single wicket against Bangladesh, there is no real cause of concerns for India. Both spinners were decent and add Kedar Jadhav into the mix, India’s bowling line-up looks sorted.

Pakistan may want to make a few changes especially with Fakhar Zaman who has failed to score a single run in the tournament so far. And although Fakhar has struggled so far, Pakistan might not look to replace their Champions Trophy hero. Mohammad Amir, who has been going through a dry spell in recent matches, was kept on the sidelines against Afghan­istan and still be sitting out against India.

But Pakistan would definitely take some inspiration from the experienced Shoaib Malik, who on Friday guided them towards that tense win over Afghanistan with a calm knock of 51 under intense pressure.

Babar Azam has also looked in great nick, scoring 47 against India and then 66 against the Afghans, while strengthening Pakistan’s middle order along with Malik.

Another cause of concern for India could be that they have won both their previous contests while chasing. In their opening match against Hong Kong, they were asked to bat first and looked to be vulnerable at one stage against the associate nation. Sarfraz could look for a trick here, and hope his side gets to bowl first, just to get a mental advantage over Sharma.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2018