For one reason or another, one of world cricket’s most cherished and awaited fixtures – that of the clash between two neighbours, India and Pakistan – has gradually transitioned into being an occasion of rarity.
Only a couple of decades ago, the teams met nine times in ODI cricket in a single calendar year. But when they will cross paths at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Saturday, 2 September, for a Group A tie of the 2023 Asia Cup, it will be the first of such occasions in over four years, in this format of the game.
With the non-technical aspects being established, let us now take a deep dive into the technical aspects, to analyse five player battles, which could have a significant impact on the ultimate outcome of the game.
1. Rohit Sharma vs Haris Rauf
The narratives will be built, and have already been constructed, on the impending bout between the Indian skipper, Rohit Sharma, and Pakistan’s most prized pace asset, Shaheen Afridi.
Indeed, the discussion is not unjustifiable, considering how Afridi plotted Sharma’s downfall in the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup. Yet, upon closer inspection, one would find that the 36-year-old opening batter is likely to face an even sterner challenge from Shaheen’s teammate, Haris Rauf.
The express pace of Rauf has caused Sharma troubles whenever the pair have crossed paths. Despite having bowled only 12 deliveries to the batter, Rauf has managed to dismiss Sharma on a couple of occasions already, whilst conceding only 13 runs.
The first of those dismissals came at the previous instalment of the Asia Cup, wherein Sharma was looking in sublime touch, having scored 28 runs in only 15 deliveries, before losing his wicket to Rauf. Only a month later, he was once again dismissed by the same bowler, this time at the T20 World Cup.
2. Shubman Gill vs Naseem Shah
When Shubman Gill will face Naseem Shah, the battle will possibly be spectacular for a concoction of various factors at play. On one end will be, arguably, India’s most promising young batter. Up against him will be, arguably, Pakistan’s most promising young bowler. Unarguably, it will be a sight to savour.
Albeit Gill has never faced Shah, he might opt to be a tad cautious against the pacer early on, considering his records against the right-arm super-quicks.
The 23-year-old has had an exemplary start to his ODI career, having scored 1437 runs in 27 matches – at an average of 62.47 and a strike rate of 104.05. Batting against spin remains his forte, with his average of 113.2 against tweakers providing enough testimony to support the statement.
Whilst not as exceptional, his numbers are quite satisfactory against the left-arm pacers as well, but for some inexplicable reason, Gill has often found it difficult against the right-armers with genuine, unadulterated pace – of the kind of Naseem Shah.
In this scenario, his average drops down to 31.5, and of his nine dismissals in ODI cricket in 2022, six were against right-arm pacers. The likes of Kagiso Rabada and Adam Milne have caused him problems, and being aware of that, Naseem will be eager to capitalise on his opponent’s weakness.
3. Virat Kohli vs Mohammad Nawaz
For the cricketing world, endearments for Virat Kohli are in abundance – ‘King’, ‘GOAT’, and so on. For Pakistan, however, he has often emerged as – the nemesis.
With their former skipper having scored 536 ODI runs against the green shirts, with an average of 48.7, India will once again hinge their hopes on Kohli for the upcoming match.
From Pakistan’s perspective, whilst the batter has proven to be nearly flawless against their intimidating seamers, he has had troubles dealing with the seemingly unintimidating spin of Mohammad Nawaz.
The last Indo-Pak clash saw Kohli smashing a couple of sixes off Nawaz’s bowling, but in the previous Asia Cup edition, the left-arm orthodox spinner managed to get the better of the 34-year-old. This sets up a tussle to cherish.
4. Fakhar Zaman vs Jasprit Bumrah
Fakhar Zaman, especially in the ODI format, has been India’s Achilles’ heel in the matches against Pakistan. The left-handed opener has scored 207 runs at an average of 51.8 against the neighbouring side.
Indeed, Zaman does not have an evident weakness against any particular Indian bowler, albeit he has always been uncharacteristically cautious against the pace of Jasprit Bumrah.
He has faced 45 deliveries off Bumrah’s bowling in ODIs, and has scored only 25 runs, with the strike rate of 55.6 being much lower than his usual ODI powerplay strike rate of 82.6.
The match against Nepal saw Zaman falling prey to an outswinger by pacer Karan KC, and should Bumrah replicate the same, he could get the wicket of the 33-year-old for the first time in his career.
5. Babar Azam vs Kuldeep Yadav
Having played a scintillating knock of 151 runs against Nepal, which also made him the fastest to get to 19 ODI centuries, Babar will be aiming for something of a similar sort against India.
Like Kohli’s case against the Pakistani seamers, Babar has often found it quite comfortable to tackle the Indian pacers. Instead, he has never looked at ease against India’s solitary specialist spinner in the squad, Kuldeep Yadav.
The pair first met at the 2018 Asia Cup, wherein whilst being only three runs away from what could have been a commendable half-century, Babar was bowled by Kuldeep.
A year later, with the Pakistani skipper being only a couple of runs shy of scoring a half-century at the 2019 ICC ODI World Cup, Kuldeep again managed to hand Babar a departure ticket.