Pakistan and India are set to renew their decades-old rivalry tonight in Asia Cup 2022. Ahead of the big game, here is what casual fans who've not kept pace with the game need to know:
1- No Shaheen, no party?
Pakistani left-armers have long troubled Indian batters, which was exactly the case when they met last year in World T20. Shaheen Afridi’s double-wicket salvo was what set the tone for the night. But Afridi wasn’t the first southpaw who troubled India.
Wasim Akram, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz have all delivered memorable spells against the Men in Blue. Even England’s Reece Topley claimed a six-for against India back in July.
Unfortunately, there are no left-arm pacers in the current Pakistan squad for the tournament. An abundance of orthodox right-armers make the bowling unit a lot less versatile and severely understrength.
2- India also missing key players
If Shaheen and Imad Wasim are missing for Pakistan, India are also not at their full strength. Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel are out injured, although the latter’s blow may look big on paper but his ordinary record against Pakistan suggests otherwise.
Indian top order, though powerful, is unsettled. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have not been scoring runs freely while KL Rahul has had numerous battles with injuries over the past year.
3- Suryakumar Yadav could be the dark horse
From a Pakistani perspective, much of the spotlight will be on Kohli, Sharma, Rahul – in the order. But the man most likely to trouble Pakistan bowlers is Suryakumar Yadav, who is the second-ranked T20 batter in the world behind only Babar Azam.
A man of extraordinary talent, Yadav is known for the shrewdness of his strokeplay. He plays with the mind of the bowler and the field that is set for him. Getting rid of him early will be just as important as keeping other bigger names quiet.
4- Pakistan should have a Plan B ready to fall back on
Tracking down 150-plus without losing a wicket is not an everyday occurrence. It happened that one fine day last year but that is by no means the benchmark.
Pakistan should be mentally prepared for the chance of its openers not delivering at any given point. Babar Azam’s unit is quite clearly a top-heavy side, and although it may have deep batting, the quality and reliability seems to fade past one-down occupant Fakhar Zaman.
The top order not working is an aspect of the game that happens every now and then, even if it doesn’t with Pakistan, thanks to the ever reliable Azam, Rizwan and Zaman. But if and when that happens, the team should have a Plan B in place where names such as Asif Ali, Haider Ali, Khushdil Shah and Iftikhar Ahmed should be ready to do the bulk of the scoring.
5- Hasan Ali selection makes little sense
Hasan Ali remains a controversial selection for this squad. His form woes are not secret, and so dropping him made total sense. However, he was brought back without him having done much, and that could be a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps, Mir Hamza, who also is a left-arm pacer (refer to point 1) and has done well in domestic circuit, would have been a better choice.
6- Both teams lack wicket takers
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, Ravi Bishnoi, Yuzvendra Chahal, Avesh Khan, Arsheep Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin are not names that should be giving Pakistani batters sleepless nights.
There just aren’t many wicket takers in here. With that clear, Pakistan’s strategy should also reflect that. And instead of needlessly saving wickets, chances should be taken when they present themselves.
Similarly, it is difficult to see where a Shaheen-less Pakistan would find its wickets from. Naseem Shah is promising but unproven at this level, while Haris Rauf can still be inconsistent. Hasan Ali is Hasan Ali, whereas the likes of Shadab Khan and part-timers can chip in but not contribute the lion’s share to any potential wicket fest.
7- RIP 'mauka'
The effects of Pakistan's dominant win are felt to this day. The mauka series has been ditched and a far more humbler approach been adopted. This is what happens when streaking/dominant winners are finally made to eat a humble pie.
It happened to Mike Tyson after the Lennox Lewis defeat and to Conor McGregor after the Khabib Nurmagomedov loss. With parity established, sanity has now been restored.