India battle Pakistan as both teams eye spot in Asia Cup final
Driven into a corner after their defeat to Sri Lanka, India will look to regroup quickly and plug their loopholes as they go into the make or break match against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup in Dhaka on Sunday.
With back-to-back victories over Pakistan and India, Sri Lanka have virtually assured themselves of a berth in the final of the Asia Cup, and now it's a two-way battle between the traditional rivals to book a spot in the final of the five-nation tournament.
Both, India and Pakistan go into the match on an even keel but defending champions Pakistan have a slight edge as they have a bonus point in their kitty from their win against associate nation Afghanistan.
India registered a facile victory over hosts Bangladesh in their tournament opener but went down to Sri Lanka by two wickets on Friday.
Pakistan were also beaten by a narrow 12-run margin by the same opponents in their opening match of the Asia Cup.
Image: Ravindra Jadeja celebrates after picking up wicket
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters
Pujara might be brought to lend some solidity to the batting
For India, it was Virat Kohli's sparkling century that did the job against Bangladesh, while for Pakistan Umar Akmal's timely ton saved them from what could have been an embarrassing loss to Afghanistan.
But the sheer importance of the contest will mean that past records will have little relevance as the two teams look to renew their rivalry and take some brownie points.
A new look middle order's lack of execution would be a concern for the Indian team and Cheteshwar Pujara might be brought to lend some solidity to the batting.
Test specialist Pujara might not have been in the hard-hitting mould but he is capable of providing the much needed stability, which was lacking in the Indian batting up against Sri Lanka.
Failure of Ambati Rayudu (18), Dinesh Karthik (4) and Stuart Binny (0) hurt India badly as Sri Lanka restricted them to 264 for nine.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images
India need third spinner to back Jadeja, Ashwin
India’s bowling line-up also looked incomplete. They missed a third spinner to back Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in the death overs, something Sri Lanka did wisely with Ajantha Mendis’s inclusion.
India went ahead with Binny but his innocuous medium pacers never really helped the cause. And, in hindsight it seemed that Amit Mishra would have been a better choice.
The fact that the leg spinner is also pretty good with the bat, will certainly merit him a selection for Sunday’s crucial tie.
India, however, can take heart from the fact that Rahane and Dhawan are back among the runs to provide a great support to Kohli.
India will now desperately want opener Rohit Sharma to forget the horrors of Dale Steyn in the Johannesburg ODI against South Africa, and start afresh.
Image: Ravichandran Ashwin
Kohli rests faith in Rohit
With skipper Kohli giving Sharma the full backing, it's time for the opener to regain confidence and make a mark against Pakistan.
"We need to have faith in him because he's done really well and stepped up when we didn't have any opening options. He's filled in that spot beautifully and I think he deserves all the faith," Kohli had said.
India would also look to improve their fielding, especially after four dropped catches and one missed stumping against Sri Lanka.
India missed a stumping chance against veteran Kumar Sangakkara, who showed the way with a breathtaking 84-ball 103 as Sri Lanka recovered from a middle-order batting collapse to pull off a thrilling two-wicket victory on Friday. Sangakkara was let off on 30.
Image: Rohit Sharma
Pakistan's in-form players will India a hard time
Pakistan, on their part, will not spare an inch when the two clash for the first time after their meeting in the ICC Champions Trophy, which Dhoni's men had won in a rain-affected match.
Pakistan, also face problems in their batting and the onus is now on skipper Misbah-ul-Haq to lead from the front after his run-out in the last match against Afghanistan.
Their No 3 batsman, Mohammad Hafeez's form will also prove to be crucial as will be the contributions of veteran all-rounder Shahid Afridi.
It is their bowling spearheaded, Umar Gul and left-arm pacer Junaid Khan who would be relied upon heavily. But their spin department also has enough resources with the trio of Saeed Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi to challenge the Indian batsmen.
After five matches in Fatullah, the action now shifts to country's premier venue -- Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium – in Dhaka and both the teams will be watchful about the nature of the pitch.
Given the fact that the dew factor is significant, both the teams will be looking to bowl first after winning the toss.
The match on Sunday is expected to be a crowd-puller and the hopes of it being a humdinger are high.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Amit Mishra, Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal (wk), Shahid Afridi, Anwar Ali, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Talha, Abdur Rehman, Fawad Alam.
Match starts: 1.30pm IST.
Image: Pakistan cricket team
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters