Asia Cup: India and Pakistan face off in battle to be first among equals

Encounter could be decided based on which bowling unit turns up on Saturday in the first of three possible high-voltage clashes before the World Cup 
India's captain Rohit Sharma shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam (File photo | AFP)
India's captain Rohit Sharma shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam (File photo | AFP)

PALLEKELE: The 3-0 clean sweep of Afghanistan meant Pakistan leapfrogged Australia to achieve the No 1 ranking in ODIs a few days back. Given their numero uno status, they should have been the favourites in their Asia Cup match against India, who are placed two rungs below them in the ranking chart, here at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Sri Lanka. But things cannot be that straightforward when the two arch-rivals meet. On the contrary, the contest, scheduled to begin on Saturday afternoon, seems to be an even-steven affair irrespective of the teams' recent form and their rankings.

India captain Rohit Sharma admitted Pakistan have been in prolific form of late and credited Babar Azam and Co. for playing consistent cricket over the years.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah (L) and Virat Kohli
attend a practice session on Friday | AP

"They are a very good team, they have done well in the last few years. Be it the T20 World Cup or the 50-over format, they have been exceptional. Teams don’t become No 1 in the world just like that, there’s a lot of hard work and effort that goes into that. They play as a unit, so this is a great challenge for us. We have prepared well. We had some days of work that we put in. We hope to sort the things that we have set our eyes on fixing," Rohit told the media on the eve of the match.

The opener, however, emphasised that the tournament is not only about the clash between the two neighbours. He, in fact, said all the six teams in the tournament are competitive and can trump anyone on their given day.  

"See, this is a tournament where six teams are competing, and all six teams are quite competitive, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. You got to be best on that given day. Rivalry (India-Pakistan) is there for people to talk about. But for us, we don't want to look into all those kinds of things. We have an opposition to play tomorrow (Saturday), how we can come up against them, how we can perform, how we can get the things that we want to do right and focus on those kinds of things rather than looking at all sorts of other things, which eventually is not going to help you. What is going to help us is keep doing the right things on the field. Keep making the right decision and move forward as a team. We are here to tick a lot of boxes when we are finished with this tournament so hopefully we can achieve that, and you know go into the next one-and-a-half-months of the World Cup."

Like the past, Pakistan pacers including Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf are expected to test India's top order including captain Rohit, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli. The Mumbai batter admitted the trio is world class and can make early inroads but he also said the Indian pacers including Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj are also in good shape, a very good sign for the team.

"All six of them are great bowlers without a doubt, and they've proven in world cricket right now, how good they are. Speaking of, you know, Shami, Siraj and Bumrah, especially Bumrah who is coming back from an injury after such a long time, he played in Ireland, and looked good. And the small little camp we had in Bangalore, he looked good as well. And yeah, he is looking in good spirits, that is a good sign for us. So are Shami and Siraj. They've been doing the job for us in the past few years now. And I hope that they continue to do that for us. To have all three quicks in good shape, a good frame of mind is always a good sign. It's going to be a very positive sign for us. So, hopefully, they can keep themselves fresh throughout these next two months," said the captain.

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