The buzz in Dubai cricket circles on Tuesday centred around Imran Khan. The Pakistan Prime Minister embarked on a two-day state visit to Saudi Arabia today. On his way home on Wednesday, a stop-off in Abu Dhabi is scheduled. Grapevine has it that Imran might also take a trip to Dubai for a few hours to catch a glimpse of India vs Pakistan Asia Cup game.
A Prime Minister’s visit to a foreign country needs to follow certain protocols. And there’s no confirmation yet from official sources here. But the rumour mills went into overdrive, so much so that even Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed was asked during his pre-match presser about Imran’s possible visit. “It will be a great motivation if he comes. If he comes to the ground, then it will be good for the fans and a big motivation for our players. He has a big fan following both in India and Pakistan, so it will be a great motivation,” Sarfraz replied.
A look back at the last 5 matches between India and Pakistan
The India-Pakistan match at the Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday has generated huge interest among fans. The two teams are facing off for the first time since the ICC Champions Trophy Final in June last year. So, tomorrow’s game is sold out, notwithstanding the fact that the minimum ticket price is 150 AED (Rs 3,000 approx). The global craze around this fixture gets on the players’ nerves as well and makes experience a valuable commodity.
Pakistan has 36-year-old Shoaib Malik, playing at the top level since 1999. Over the past 19-odd years, he has featured in 39 ODIs against India and averages 47.45 against Pakistan’s fiercest rivals. Sania Mirza’s husband has finished on the winning side 20 times.
MS Dhoni’s is India’s response to Malik’s experience. Since making his international debut in 2004, the former India captain has been part of this marquee contest 33 times, boasting of an awesome record – an average of 55.90, which is higher than his ODI career average of 51.25, and two centuries. The first of the two was a scintillating 148 off 123 balls in Vizag way back in 2005. It was Dhoni’s first brush with stardom. The second came in a losing cause at Chepauk in December 2012. The Indian innings had only two double-digit scores in that game apart from the then skipper’s masterful 113 not out. India and Pakistan are yet to play a bilateral series since.
Experience has always played a big part in this battle royale; be it Javed Miandad’s match-winning last-ball six at Sharjah in 1986 or Sachin Tendulkar’s blazing 75-ball 98 in the 2003 World Cup at Centurion in 2003.
Of late though, Virat Kohli has towered over the rest in India-Pakistan matches. In the last Asia Cup – played in the T20 format – in Bangladesh two years ago, Kohli’s 49 on a difficult pitch proved to be the difference between the two sides in a low-scoring affair. After bowling out Pakistan for 83, India had lost their first three wickets for eight runs before Kohli dropped anchor and secured a five-wicket win. A little over a month later, another Kohli masterclass, 55 off 66 balls, took the hosts over the line on a damp Eden Gardens pitch in a high-profile ICC World T20 fixture. In the 2015 World Cup game in Adelaide, Kohli hammered 107 in India’s 76-run victory. Last year, in the Champions Trophy group match in Birmingham, the India captain scored an unbeaten 81 in his team’s 124-run victory. Kohli fell cheaply in the final and Pakistan won by 180 runs to lift the Champions Trophy.
Kohli has opted out of the Asia Cup and India’s middle order looks fragile. At the top, Shikhar Dhawan was struggling to put bat to ball in England. The left-hander could be short of confidence, irrespective of his fluent show against Hong Kong on Tuesday. So, the onus will be on stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma and Dhoni. Rohit has a decent record in ODIs against Pakistan – 13 matches, 417 runs at 34.75.
“As far as India is concerned, Kohli is their captain for the last two years or so. So, as a team, it’s different for them. I don’t know what Rohit is thinking as a captain. He is a world-class player but they have got some very good players and have done well in the past. The conditions are the same. Had there been a difference in conditions it would have made a difference not to have a world-class player,” Sarfraz preferred to be politically correct on match eve.
India-Pakistan contests also throw up new heroes, like in Vizag 13 years ago. Most recently, Fakhar Zaman had the honour, thanks to his 106-ball 114 in the Champions Trophy final, capitalising on a Jasprit Bumrah no-ball reprieve. Pakistan, in fact, used to have a copyright on unheralded heroes in the late 1980s and early ‘90s through the likes of Ijaz Ahmed, Manzoor Elahi and Zahid Fazal. Ajay Jadeja returned the compliment as India’s young hero in the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal, hammering a game-changing 25-ball 45.
A sizeable chunk in this Indian team tasted ODI and Test series defeat in England. “As a team, they will definitely have that pressure,” Sarfraz agreed, before adding: “But if they take it as a new game, a new event, then they will cope with it.”