DUBAI: India’s Virat Kohli is given the chance to regain form ahead of the World Cup while Babar Azam will look to keep Pakistan’s psychological edge when the rivals clash as the Asian Cup major titles will begin this weekend.
Cricket giants India and Pakistan could play each other three times in the two weeks of the T20 competition in the United Arab Emirates.
The Six Nations tournament has been moved from Sri Lanka due to the political unrest and it takes on added importance this year as the T20 World Cup in Australia is fast approaching in October and November.
Sri Lanka will meet Afghanistan in Saturday’s opener, but all eyes will be on India and Pakistan, who meet in Dubai on Sunday.
India will be looking to avenge their 10-wicket humiliation by Pakistan at the same venue in last year’s T20 World Cup, and skipper Rohit Sharma is trying to keep his players level as the wait and the fans’ excitement reach a fever pitch.
“Everyone is watching the game and it’s a high pressure game no doubt, but within the group we want to create a normal atmosphere,” he told Star Sports.
India’s history at the Asian Cup
“We don’t want to make too much noise about this game. It’s important to tell players who haven’t played Pakistan or only played it once or twice that it’s just a other opposition.
India head coach Rahul Dravid has Covid and India late on Wednesday appointed former VVS batsman Laxman to take charge on an interim basis.
The game will be Kohli’s 100th T20 international and a chance for the big hitter to come out of his protracted pre-World Cup slump.
The 33-year-old hasn’t scored a century in any format since 2019 but is expected to be refreshed after being rested for tours of the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Kohli, who has 27 centuries in 102 tests, was replaced by Rohit as all-format skipper earlier this year.
Pakistan’s fortunes will mostly hinge on in-form skipper Azam, fresh off two great half-centuries in his side’s 3-0 ODI sweep of the Netherlands.
Azam, 27, tops the world T20 and ODI batting charts and led his side to victory last year against India with a 68 unbeaten run.
Pakistan brought in pace setter Mohammad Hasnain in place of Shaheen Shah Afridi from India’s T20 destroyer last year, who was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury.
Reigning champions India, who won the last Asian Cup in 2018 despite being played more than 50 times, and Pakistan will be joined in Group A by Hong Kong who beat the Emirates United Arab Emirates in the final qualifying match on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are in Group B.
The top two teams from each group progress to a Super 4 stage, which could see another contest between India and Pakistan.
The arch-rivals could then meet for a third time if they both reach the 9/11 final.
Sri Lanka, led by Dasun Shanaka, could be the Indo-Pakistani party animal.
They are capable of reaching the final, having enjoyed success in recent home series amid a severe economic crisis.
Victory would bring welcome cheer to the cricket-mad island nation ravaged in recent months by food and fuel shortages and power outages.
Afghanistan have the ability to upset any team, their ace being leg spinner Rashid Khan, one of the best T20 bowlers in the world who can exploit and transform UAE pitches.
Bangladesh have been boosted by the return of versatile Shakib Al Hasan in charge of the team, who said his priority was to see an improvement in the performance of the struggling team ahead of the World Cup. —Agencies