NEW DELHI: The stage is set for the marquee clash between arch-rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup at Pallekele in Kandy on Saturday.
India have a strong batting unit that includes batters like captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya.
Pace ace Jasprit Bumrah has recently returned to the Indian attack after recovering from an injury and joins fellow quicks Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj.
Pakistan boast one of the world's best pace attacks including Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.
Pakistan crushed Asia Cup debutants Nepal in the opener in Multan.
The Men in Green are also the top ranked ODI team in the ICC rankings, while India are ranked 3rd.
On the eve of the match, TimesofIndia.com ran a poll asking fans a series of questions. The following are the results of the poll:
The first question was: Who is the better ODI team right now going by current form and results?
The options given were:
- Both teams are equally matched
427 votes were polled in favour of Pakistan, who recently rose to the top of world ODI team rankings.
339 votes were polled for India who are grappling with injuries and form issues.
173 fans voted for the third option: Both teams are equally matched.
Verdict: Interestingly, most fans clearly feel that Pakistan are the better ODI team currently.
The second question was: Will this encounter also boil down to a clash between India's batting and Pakistan's bowling?
The three options here were:
- Yes, India have the superior batters and Pakistan's bowling arsenal is stronger
- No, India's bowlers are more than capable of troubling Pakistan batters
- Can't Say, both team are equally matched in both departments, result will depend on which players shine on the day
552 fans voted for the first option: Yes, India have the superior batters and Pakistan's bowling arsenal is stronger.
252 fans voted for the third option: Can't Say, both teams are equally matched in both departments, result will depend on which players shine on the day.
132 votes were in favour of the second option: No, India's bowlers are more than capable of troubling Pakistan batters.
Verdict: Some things don't change. India vs Pakistan cricket clashes have traditionally always been encounters between India's superstar batters and Pakistan's lethal fast bowlers. And most fans clearly feel this clash will follow the same script. Watch out for Virat vs Shaheen!
The third question was: Which Indian batter will be the standout performer for the team in the group match vs Pakistan?
- Virat Kohli
- Rohit Sharma
- Shreyas Iyer
- Shubman Gill
- Someone else
Not surprisingly, former captain Virat Kohli was the standout winner here getting 513 votes.
In 13 ODIs played against Pakistan, Kohli has scored 536 runs at an average of 48.72 with 2 hundreds. Kohli's highest ODI score of 183 came against Pakistan in an Asia Cup match and he is also the first Indian batsman to hit a century against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup (2015 edition).
Opener Shubman Gill, who will play his first ODI against Pakistan, got the second highest number of votes: 190.
The someone else option got 111 votes.
Interestingly India captain Rohit Sharma, who hit a century against Pakistan the last time these two teams clashed in an ODI - in the 2019 World Cup, received only 83 votes.
Shreyas Iyer, who is making a comeback after injury, got 29 votes.
Verdict: Virat Kohli seems to be the clear fan favourite in terms of delivering the goods against the arch rivals.
The fourth question was: Which Pakistan bowler should Team India be most wary of?
- Shaheen Shah Afridi
- Naseem Shah
- Haris Rauf
- Shahdab Khan
- Someone else
Not surprisingly, left-arm pacer and Pakistan's pace spearhead, Shaheen Shah Afridi got the maximum number of votes: 577.
Left-arm pace has been India's Achilles heel in important white-ball games and the Indians are known to struggle against left-arm pacers.
In Afridi, Pakistan have the ideal man that can crack open the Indian top-order and expose the middle and lower middle-order.
Right-arm fast bowler Haris Rauf got the second highest number of votes: 173.
Naseem Shah got 96 votes while 55 votes were polled in the favour of all-rounder Shahdab Khan.
The someone else option got 37 votes.
Verdict: Not surprising to see the fans opting for Shaheen Afridi as the one bowler who can hurt Team India the most. He might be ranked 9th in the current ODI bowlers' rankings, but Afridi is a big dangerman Team India would have also identified. The Men in Blue will have to be very careful not to allow Shaheen to make early breakthroughs.
The fifth and the last question was: Do you think the Asia Cup final will be an India vs Pakistan encounter also?
Yes, these are the two strongest teams in the tournament
No, one of the two teams is likely to falter
Can't Say, some other team like Sri Lanka could also secure a final berth
With 643 votes being polled for the first option: Yes, these are the two strongest teams in the tournament, fans gave a clear indication that they are hungry for cricket clashes between the arch-rivals and that they feel these two teams are hands down the strongest amongst the 6 competing teams. The Asia Cup games will also be good warm-up contests for the big clash in the forthcoming World Cup on October 14.
However, given the unpredictable nature of Team Pakistan and Team India not having a settled playing XI, as many as 167 votes were polled for the second option: No, one of the two teams is likely to falter.
Fans also did not rule out co-hosts Sri Lanka making it to the final with 121 fans voting for the third option: Can't Say, some other team like Sri Lanka could also secure a final berth.
Verdict: Nothing can trump India vs Pakistan. Even though cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, the emotions will always favour India vs Pakistan clashes. Also Pakistan (1) and India (3) are the two highest ranked ODI teams in the world currently. Interestingly, Bangladesh (7) are ranked higher than Sri Lanka (8).