The India–Pakistan cricket rivalry is one of the most extreme and intensified sports rivalries in the world. Cricket authorities are well aware that there’s no rivalry that can fill their coffers than setting up an India-Pakistan match in global tournaments. Since 2011 World Cup, every single global tournament has featured a match between the two arch-rivals.
Yet, despite the apparent manipulation of the draw to make sure these two teams meet, the quality of cricket remains unable to match the excessive hype-building by the media and audience.
The ongoing Asia Cup went one step by making such a convoluted tournament format that in a competition of six teams, Pakistan and India play each other twice before the knockout stage.
The first match followed the trend of how these matches play out between the two in the recent past: Pakistan bat first, get bowled out cheaply, and India completes the chase comfortably.
The Super-four stage of the Asia Cup 2018 has started. Both India and Pakistan beat their opponents in their respective first games. India had an easy time dispatching Bangladesh as they achieved the target of 174 with almost 14 overs to spare. So, that was hardly a contest. Bangladesh never looked like they had any chance of winning that game.
On the other hand, the Pakistan vs Afghanistan match was a well contested nail-biting affair that went down to the wire. Shoaib Malik’s experience saw Pakistan pull it off in the last over.
The first encounter three days ago was a forgettable affair for Pakistan. India dominated that match and outclassed Pakistan in all three segments of the match – batting, bowling, and fielding.
On 23rd September, the teams meet again for the second time in four days and both Pakistan and tournament organizers hope for a spirited fight back from the team in green but signs are not good.
Pakistan’s performance was shoddy and ragged. They dropped catches, the ground-fielding was shambolic and their team selection was completely out of character, which was particularly surprising because in the last 18-months Sarfaraz Ahmed-Mickey Arthur brain trust has managed to figure out the template of the limited-overs squad and have results to show for it.
On the other hand, the Indian team has clearly stepped up and shown that they have ample quality on bench to ensure they don’t miss their talismanic captain Kohli. Leading the squad in this tournament, Rohit Sharma and his opening partner Shikar Dhawan have shown yet again why they are the world’s best opening pair in limited overs game and haven’t exposed their middle order to testing times.
First, they got Pakistan out for 162 in first match on Wednesday, and then wrapped up Bangladesh’s line up in their next match on Friday for just 173, allowing for comfortable eight wickets and seven wicket wins.
Even though India lost all-rounder Hardik Pandya in the match against Pakistan, their depth in squad ensured they could replace him with Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinning all-rounder, who came back to the squad and took four wickets.
In the first meeting between the two rivals in this edition of Asia Cup, some commentators felt that it is the first time in a long while that Pakistan will enter the field as the favourites.
Then that day came when Green shirts once again ready to face off Indian team in second match. And then the same happened, another match, and another lop-sided loss later, we have more than one ways to skin this cat. We can do the obvious, which is to point out the plethora of blunders to bash the team, its captain and demand wholesale changes. Or we can take the less popular, riskier and twice failed route of sticking with the Green shirts, and build the narrative that the twin defeats so far would mean nothing if they win the final.
On Sunday, 23rd September, Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan both scored centuries, and produced a batting master class to hand another lop-sided defeat to Pakistan in their Asia Cup 2018 Super Four match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Pakistan could have got Sharma out in the sixth over but Imamul Haq dropped an easy catch off a luckless Shaheen Shah, giving the colourful Indian power to smash seven boundaries and four sixes.
Sharma, who scored back to back fifties in the last two games and Dhawan matches his skipper shot for shot, firing 100-ball 114 with 16 boundaries and two sixes as Pakistani bowlers had no clue to the rasping and flowing strokes of the Indian openers. This win is India’s highest against Pakistan in terms of wickets, improving on the eight wicket win over Pakistan in Melbourne in 1985.
And it’s not the players’ fault, at least not entirely. When a crucial phase of their growth is taken away from them, this is bound to happen. When the only way of playing you know is against substandard sides or the empty and lifeless UAE stadia, this is bound to happen.
Under Najam Sethi, the PCB and the powers that be took some baby steps in removing the handicap that keeps our players from turning their potential into something world class. But baby steps were all they were.
With a cricket legend now heading the country, the board and the powers that be need to immediately rethink their strategy and address whatever there is that keeps top cricketing nations from visiting the country.