Skipper Rohit Sharma brushed aside talk of Pakistan but hinted India could make changes to their starting line-up to deal with their threat once they have assessed the wicket conditions in their Asia Cup opener against Hong Kong on Tuesday.
The six-time champions begin their quest for another Asian title at Dubai International Stadium when they take on minnows Hong Kong in Group B.
However much of the talk in the build-up since the draw was revealed was another installment of cricket’s fiercest rivalry when India take on Pakistan at the same venue on Wednesday.
But for Team India, the focus is purely on Hong Kong although Rohit admitted the wicket, which has been just laid for the tournament, will give them a better idea of whether they need to make any adjustments for the eagerly-anticipated tie.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan because tomorrow we are playing Hong Kong,” Rohit told media at Dubai’s ICC Academy. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we finished with Hong Kong game, we will look at Pakistan and see what their strengths and weaknesses are.
“For us, we haven’t played here (in the UAE). The last time we played here was during the 2014 IPL. It’s been a long time since we played in this particular venue (Dubai International Stadium) so tomorrow is a perfect chance to assess the conditions and wicket, dimension of the ground. It is important to consider all that and put that into the game.
“From what I saw of the two games so far (in this tournament), the wickets doesn’t look that bad. We know it will get slower and slower as the game progresses. It might mean we have to adapt to that and based on the conditions we may have to play our starting 11 like that.”
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of the Group B clash.
SRI LANKA BATSMEN MUST STEP UP
“We only have one lifeline. We have to win it. It’s a do or die game for us.” Those words said by Angelo Mathews during the post-match press conference after their 137-run loss to Bangladesh on Saturday tells you everything about how crucial Monday’s encounter is.
Sri Lanka’s bowling unit wasn’t the reason for the defeat after Lasith Malinga’s four-wicket haul on his return to international cricket but poor fielding and batting were the major reasons for the loss.
Chasing a competitive target of 261, Sri Lanka’s batting frailties showed yet again when Dilruwan Perera’s 29 was one of five double digit scores against the Tigers. The absences of injured batting duo of opener Danushka Gunathilaka and Dinesh Chandimal have made things difficult but they cannot afford to make the same mistake twice as defeat is not an option. If they do, they will be back in Colombo by the time the Super Four stage begins this weekend.
Unfortunately for them, they will be up against a deadly bowling attack including the likes Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman who continue to go from strength to strength in every game they play.
FAMILIAR CONDITIONS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Surprisingly, given their remarkable rise to Test cricket, Afghanistan are only appearing in the Asia Cup for the second time following their 2014 qualification. Back then, they exited in the group stage but this time around, would fancy their chances of making the last-four. It’s not down to the likes of Rashid, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman but their familiarity with UAE conditions.
The Afghans are no strangers to playing in the UAE having played their ‘home’ games at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, while also playing their last four-day international game against the UAE at Abu Dhabi.
While they have the quality to trouble the Sri Lankans, their knowledge of the conditions will be a massive advantage.
SRI LANKA: Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Mathews, Dasun Shanaka, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Amila Aponso and Lasith Malinga
AFGHANISTAN: Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Aftab Alam, Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium
Safraz Ahmed and his men were just too good for the minnows at Dubai as they affirmed their title credentials with a resounding eight-wicket win. Their bowlers were on point as Hong Kong were bundled out for just 116 and one of the reasons was the display of Shadab Khan.
The Pakistan spinner finished with figures of 2-31 in his eight overs. Here, we take a closer look at his performance.
OVERS BOWLED: 8
RUNS CONCEDED: 31
An excellent point fielder, Shadab was in thick of the action from the very go as he affected a brilliant run-out of Nizakat Khan with a direct hit. With the ball, the star Pakistan leg-spinner wasted no time in getting into his groove on Sunday as he struck with his very first delivery with the help of a sumptuous googly. Two deliveries later he had a second as he introduced himself with a double-wicket maiden. The wrist-spinner was hard to get away for Hong Kong’s batsmen with his array of variations as he capped off a fine performance.
Shadab Khan today— Ahsan. 🇵🇰 (@imPakistaniLAD) September 16, 2018
2 Wickets with Bowl
1 Run Out and 1 Catch in Fielding
You can only mock him for his Hair Style!! pic.twitter.com/JxUskSOCO3
The subtlety in Shadab’s variations can be hard to pick for even an established batsman. Hence, with the youngster being right on the money from the very go, Hong Kong’s batsmen barely stood a chance. Knowing how to set up a batsman and when to bowl the googly is one of Shadab’s greatest assets and he showed that in abundance at the Dubai International Cricket stadium to get his Asia Cup campaign off to the perfect start. Apart from his skills with the ball, the Pakistan spinner was also a livewire on the field and completed an excellent catch too apart from the run-out he affected.
Shadab barely put a foot wrong in his eight-over spell. Once the teenager had announced himself with a stupendous first over, Hong Kong’s batsmen chose to play him more circumspectly and that was the only reason he could not add to his wicket column.
VERDICT – 8/10
The teenager is going to be key to Pakistan’s hopes in the Asia Cup and provides a perfect complement to their strong pace battery. With Sunday’s performance, Shadab has sounded the warning to other teams in the fray, especially India who will be Pakistan’s next opponent. The youngster did not really stamp his authority in his last encounter against Pakistan’s arch-rivals but his latest display will have given him the perfect preparation for the blockbuster clash on Wednesday.