The Telegraph
Sunday , March 2 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

A lot is at stake for the rivals

Calcutta/Mirpur: The beauty of an India-Pakistan contest, especially on the cricket field, is that irrespective of whether it is an important match or an inconsequential tie, there’s always interest, expectation and hype around it.

It’s obvious then that if the match carries significance, the level of the competition goes up further, making it an intense fight between ‘neighbours’, better known as arch-rivals.

Fight it will be on Sunday as well, when the two teams meet at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur in a crucial Asia Cup match. Crucial because both the teams are standing on an almost equal platform and would be desperate to take leap towards a spot in the final with a victory.

Both India and Pakistan have won one and lost one in their Asia Cup campaigns so far. Pakistan enjoy a slight advantage by virtue of the bonus point they earned with their big victory over Afghanistan.

After a confident six-wicket victory over Bangladesh in their tournament opener, India suffered a narrow two-wicket defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka on Friday.

The inexperienced middle-order remains one of the two concerns for India. The other one is of course their bowling. Against the Lankans, Shikhar Dhawan (94) and Virat Kohli (48) gave a push at the top of the order and India were on course for a 300-plus total. But with the middle-order collapse, all that they could garner were 264 runs. The target proved insufficient in the end.

One wonders what keeps the Indian team management from giving Cheteshwar Pujara a chance. When Pujara was selected for the tournament, the general belief was that the selectors were looking ahead, planning for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where a batsman like Pujara may prove to be an asset. Also, with the Indian middle order lacking in experience, someone with the temperament of Pujara could be invaluable.

Pujara might not be a hard-hitting batsman, but the assurance that he can provide may help stand-in captain Kohli stand on a firmer ground. Failures of Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Stuart Binny in the match against Sri Lanka hurt India badly. So if common sense prevails, one hopes that Pujara will get a look in on Sunday in the high-pressure match.

While Pujara deserves a chance, one has to say that Rohit Sharma needs to do something to do justice to the chances that he has been getting. Batting as an opener, Rohit has played few sensible knocks of late.

It will also be interesting to find out how the Indians fare against Saeed Ajmal. The Pakistan offie has a bag of tricks and loves bowling against the Indians.

Indian bowling, like its middle order, lacks experience and has been inconsistent. A brilliant spell is often undone by mediocrity. Pacer Mohammed Shami has been very successful in the last few months, but against Sri Lanka he bled 81 runs from his 10 overs. Ravichandran Ashwin has changed his bowling action but is yet to make a mark. The others too have not done anything significant.

The Indian bowlers will therefore have to be alert because though batting is not Pakistan’s strength, on their day, the Pakistani batsmen can murder a bowling attack.

Kohli will also have to get the bowling combination right. All-rounder Binny was played in the last match, but he hardly looked impressive. With action shifting to Mirpur from Fatullah, the wicket is expected to assist the medium pacers better. Hence, India may play three seamers on Sunday.

Interestingly, on Saturday, only Pujara and Varun Aaron slogged it out at practice as the other members of the team remained in the team hotel.

Pujara had only three bowlers, provided by the BCB, for the practice session. In a fine gesture, Pujara gifted the net bowlers with some of his Team India gear before obliging them with autographs.

India (likely): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara/Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron/Ishwar Pandey

Match starts: 1.30pm (IST).