15 months after they last met, India and Pakistan will face off once again in what must be the one of the most high profile dead rubber in Cricket. On that day in London, in a game etched in Pakistan Cricket history, they handed India a comprehensive defeat to win the Champions Trophy for the first time ever.
Since that defeat, India has been in fine ODI form, having gone on to win ODI series against Sri Lanka (twice), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies before losing 1-2 against England during their recent tour. Pakistan on the other hand have played much less and arguably much weaker opposition, winning against Sri Lanka, losing on the tour to New Zealand and most recently, winning easily in Zimbabwe.
However, Pakistan will still enter the game as favourites, something that hasn’t happened too often in recent history for their games against India. Pakistan XI looks a lot more settled with two exciting openers, a fine young batsman at 3, the experience of Shoaib Malik and Sarfaraz in the middle order and Asif Ali, Shadab and Faheem Ashraf to give a big push at the end.
India, on the other hand, still looks heavily reliant on their top order to give them a good total. In the absence of the best batsman in the world, responsibility has increased further on Dhawan and Rohit to provide a good start.
The middle order problems for India have been well documented and even a game against Hong Kong yesterday didn’t provide enough answers. In all likelihood, Rahul, Rayudu, Dhoni and Jadhav will occupy number 3 to 6 and India will be hoping they can provide a good enough platform for Pandya and Dhoni to launch in the end.
Indian bowling attack looked a little toothless against Hong Kong with their opening pair adding 174 before Anshy Rath got dismissed. They will have to do much better against a vastly superior Pakistan batting line up and India will be hoping that Bumrah’s addition bolsters the bowling attack and provides the edge it was missing yesterday.
The wrist spinners did well to pull Hong Kong back and will be expected to control things in middle overs again on a slowish Dubai pitch. However, Bhuvi’s ODI form recently is a bit of a concern and Rohit might be tempted to go with the impressive Khaleel in place of the more experienced man.
Pakistan bowling attack, unlike India, made short work of Hong Kong in their first match and with two days’ rest, will be raring to go against the arch enemy. Only question for them is whether to include Junaid, someone with an excellent record against India, in place of Amir or Usman.
The heat and humidity of Dubai is likely to play a big part with Indians playing twice in two days more likely to suffer so the Indian team will be desperate to avoid fielding in the sun. Will an Indian Captain finally win a toss and elect to bat first? We find out at 5 PM today.
(Update: Pakistan has won the toss and they will bat. Winning the toss remains elusive, now over to the match)