Asia Cup 2023: Top-ranked Pakistan all set to take on India today

KARACHI: The world’s top cricket team, Pakistan, and its archrivals India will battle on the field for the first time in a one-day international (ODI) since the 2019 World Cup, when they step on the Pallekele Cricket Stadium in Sri Lanka today in what is being touted as a high-voltage encounter of Asia Cup 2023.

After rising to the number one spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) world rankings, Pakistan is aiming to tame its conventional next-door adversaries with help from its top-tier bowling attack.

Meanwhile, the Indians are hopeful to watch its potent batting line-up which includes its captain Rohit Sharma, star hitter Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya.

It would be a battle between the Babar Azam-led Pakistan’s pace and Rohit Sharma-led India’s batters, but the Saturday game could well be decided by the weather gods. There is a forecast for rain over the weekend in Kandy, which means the game may be disrupted.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are hoping to capitalise on the momentum following a big win in their Asia Cup opener against minnows Nepal in Multan earlier this week. “We are not focusing on the past, but looking to do good in the upcoming matches,” said Babar, who hit a match-winning 151 against Nepal.

“We will try to give our best and carry forward the momentum (from the first win). You know India-Pakistan is always a game of intensity and fans wait for it, so we are also excited for it.”

India’s captain Rohit Sharma said his team’s experienced batsmen were unfazed by the threat of Pakistan’s fast bowlers. Pakistan boast of one of the world’s best pace attacks, including Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf. All three made a good start in the opener of the 50-over tournament, a prelude to the upcoming ODI World Cup in India.

Rohit’s side will play their opening match of the tournament against Pakistan on Saturday in Pallekele, the first of three potential clashes between the bitter rivals in Sri Lanka. The captain praised the Pakistan quicks but said his team was ready for the challenge.

“We don’t have Shaheen, Naseem and Rauf in the nets,” Rohit joked. “So we practise with the bowlers that we have. But these three are quality bowlers and have performed well in the last few years. Pakistan have always had quality bowlers,” he added.

The Indian skipper said his team will use its “years of experience” playing against Pakistan.

“Their strength, where they bowl and not bowl, we have seen all that. We will use our years of experience to play against them, as simple as that.”

Pace ace Jasprit Bumrah has recently returned to the Indian attack after recovering from an injury and joins fellow quicks Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj. Rohit played down the comparison between the quicks of the two teams. “All those six bowlers (from India and Pakistan) are great bowlers. They have proved in world cricket how good they are,” he said.

Rohit acknowledged the opposition’s quality and relished the challenge. “It (Pakistan) is a good team, they have performed well since the past few years including the T20 World Cup or the 50-over format,” said Rohit.

“It will be a good challenge for us to play against such a team and perform. We have prepared well and will execute what we have worked on.”

The two neighbours play cricket against each other only in international tournaments, due to long-standing political tensions. India have dominated the limited-overs rivalry in the past decade but Babar Azam’s Pakistan has got a few T20 victories in the last two years.

Playing XI

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice captain) Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf

India (likely): Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur/Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah.

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