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India, Pakistan gear up for marquee clash

The Sher-e-Bangla Stadium will be packed, and the hope is that the rains stay away

India, Pakistan gear up for marquee clash
 - Cricket News
Calling it India's batting v Pakistan's bowling battle-within-a-battle is not unfair.
Not for the first time, a lot of the talk before the India v Pakistan Asia Cup 2016 encounter at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur on Saturday (February 27) centred on Pakistan’s fast men and India’s top-order batsmen.

Calling it India's batting v Pakistan's bowling battle-within-a-battle is not unfair.

India has an excellent lineup, starring Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the top, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina to follow, and then the floaters – Yuvraj Singh if there’s time to settle in, like in the opening clash against Bangladesh, Hardik Pandya if shots need to be played from the first ball, and MS Dhoni for all of that and everything else. If all else fails, there’s Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin lower down to prop things up, but recent history suggests it won’t come to that.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has a five-man pace department, bowlers of such ability that Shahid Afridi would be hard-pressed to decide who to leave out. The last time it played a Twenty20 International, in Wellington, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz handled the pace responsibilities. Umar Gul played the game before that, but he isn’t in the mix here. Instead, there is Mohammad Irfan, who looked in fine fettle at training the day before the match, and Mohammad Sami, a late replacement for the injured Rumman Raees. If he gets on the field, Sami will be playing his first game for Pakistan since May 2015, when he toured Zimbabwe with the limited-overs team.



As Afridi said the day before the match, a four-man pace operation can’t be ruled out, with a final call taken only after a view of the pitch come match day afternoon. Afridi himself will be in the fray with his quick legspin, while Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz, the uncapped 21-year-old, provide more spin options, as does Shoaib Malik.

Obviously, there’s more to both the teams than just that. “They will try to score heavily, but we also have strength in our batting; the batsmen are looking good coming from the PSL,” said Afridi. Rohit Sharma, when his turn came, countered, “We have good spinners and seamers, too.”

India has had the better time of it in the T20I exchanges between the two teams over the years, winning five and losing only one, and though history has scant relevance in matches such as this one, the fact that India has a squad that has played together for a while, with just a few alterations here and there, is a positive for it. Recent results, a 3-0 series win in Australia and a 2-1 win over Sri Lanka at home before beating Bangladesh in the Asia Cup opener also indicates stability and momentum, an intangible that does play a role in T20 cricket.

But, as Afridi stressed, playing the PSL over the past many days has been a boon for the Pakistan players, who are T20-fit at the moment: “Not playing together for Pakistan in the last few days is not going to be an issue because they have played for different franchises in the PSL, they are all together.”

It’s game on then – probably the only one not featuring Bangladesh that will be played to a packed house at the Sher-e-Bangla. All that remains is for the thundershowers that have been forecast to stay away long enough.
 
Teams (from)

India: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Hardik Pandya, Parthiv Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh.
 
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Anwar Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz.

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