After an anti-climatic end to the first match between Pakistan and India in the ongoing Asia Cup, fans are hoping the skies remain clear as the two arch rivals meet again in Colombo later today.
Some say that today’s match could go either way. But I say that the Green Shirts, for the first time, look to be the more threatening side out of the two.
The team has won all of the last five series under the captaincy of Babar Azam, beating Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Netherlands and the West Indies in the process.
Moreover, Pakistan boasts a formidable batting side, with the top three included in the ICC’s top ten batsmen rankings. Imamul Haq currently holds the fourth position while his partner, Fakhar Zaman, is ranked seventh.
Also, the team’s beloved captain is and has been the number one ODI batsman in the world for more than two years and is arguably the best batter across all formats at the moment.
He is the only batter in the history of the game who has been included in the top three of all batting rankings at the same time, a feat he achieved earlier this year. Just talking about his achievements alone would merit a separate article.
In the oft-questioned middle order, Pakistan has the option to line up Mohammad Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed and Salman Ali Agha.
In both Agha and Iftikhar — along with abilities with the bat — the skipper with a much-needed right-hand-off break option. Further, all three batters are equally capable of holding down one end during a collapse (God forbid!) before putting the pedal to the metal in the latter part of the innings.
As vice-captain, Shadab Khan automatically picks himself as the leggie of the side, although some fans say the all-rounder has yet to reach his true potential. The spinner does have room to improve when it comes to ODIs as he averages 32.06 with the ball.
But the wrist-spinner has proved to be crucial with the bat of late as he was nominated for the ICC Player of the Month for August for his performance against Afghanistan.
Between Mohammad Nawaz and Faheem Ashraf, Babar has the option to switch between two kinds of bowling all-rounders. Nawaz, who bowls left-arm off break, has previously proven to be very valuable with the bat.
But the lack of wickets from Pakistani spinners all around is a troubling sign for the team. The spin bowling duo of Nawaz and Shadab bowled 17 overs against India last Saturday and conceded 112 runs without getting a wicket, leaving the bulk of the heavy lifting to the formidable pacers.
And then comes the pace battery of Pakistan.
Leading the pace attack with the new ball would be none other than the ICC Player of the Year for 2022, Shaheen Shah Afridi. The southpaw’s threat to opponents cannot be understated as Shaheen’s unofficial mantra of taking a wicket in the first over is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons. If you are a right-handed batter against a Shaheen armed with a new ball, you can only hope for a 9-inch wide bat because he will be bowling with a capital B.
And let’s not forget, although who could, express pacer Haris Rauf and youngling Naseem Shah.
Wunderkind Naseem, who averaged 15.31 in his first 13 games, is the other half of Pakistan’s opening bowling pair. The youngster has managed to keep it tight with his accurate bowling, helping his partners get crucial wickets in the process. But Naseem’s ability to be economically supportive to his bowling partner at the other end has dried up the wickets for the youngster. Nevertheless, his movement with the ball still poses a major threat to the Indian side.
And Haris’ ability with the ball has only improved with time. The right-hand fast bowler’s ability to crack wickets in his first spell has helped Pakistan intimidate their opponents in several games.
To keep it short and sweet, Pakistan has the means and the mettle to defeat India. Call it payback for forcing the Asia Cup to be split between Pakistan and Sri Lanka or call it a good old beatdown in the most popular sport played in this part of the world, today’s match will (hopefully) go to the Green Shirts.