Pakistan will be going into their final Group A match of the Asia Cup, against India on Saturday in Pallekele, with the same side that beat Nepal in Multan on Wednesday. It is the second time Pakistan have opted to name their line-up a day early, a practice that is set to continue throughout the tournament. However, with rain around and significant chances of a curtailed game, the Asia Cup’s official hosts retain the option of making changes up until the toss.
It is India’s first game in the tournament, while victory for Pakistan will guarantee them a spot in the Super Fours as group winners. While the match against India is being held in Pallekele, Pakistan captain Babar Azam said the fact that enough of his players had spent time in Sri Lanka of late meant they had “some kind of home advantage”.
“We’ve been here for the last two months,” he said at the press conference on Friday. “We played the Tests [against Sri Lanka] here, then the LPL and then the Afghanistan series. We have decent knowledge of the conditions, and the wicket looks like a sporting one. I’ve found Sri Lankan conditions pretty similar to Pakistani and Indian conditions. You take time when you come in to bat, and bowl in the right channels.”
With games between Pakistan and India as emotionally fraught as they come, former India head coach Ravi Shastri told ESPNcricinfo that it would be temperament – and not numbers – that would determine the winner. Of late, a number of contests between the sides have ended up as comprehensive wins for either team, with the other failing to play anywhere near their best.
India’s final-ball victory at last year’s T20 World Cup was something of an outlier; before that, they enjoyed big wins at the 2019 World Cup and twice at the 2018 Asia Cup, although Pakistan were similarly dominant at the 2021 T20 World Cup and the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. However, come 2023, Babar insisted his side wouldn’t let the occasion get the better of them.
“I don’t think we feel the pressure of this game,” he said. “We’re focusing on what we can control. We want to continue our momentum. The boys are excited. You know India-Pakistan is a high-intensity match, and the fans wait for it for a while. We’re similarly excited. We’re going to stick with the same top order; but if we don’t get a good start, I am encouraged by the middle order stepping up. They’re chipping in. We had been lagging in the middle order for a while, but they’re responding well now.”
There is something of an elephant in the room, though, with Pakistan having to travel more than any other side at a tournament they are ostensibly hosting. They began by flying from Colombo to Multan for the game against Nepal, and left from the stadium directly for the airport to return to Sri Lanka.
After the game against India, they will, in all likelihood, be flying back to Pakistan for a Super Four match on September 6, only to return to Sri Lanka once more for all their remaining games. India’s refusal to play in Pakistan made that a necessity, and as it has turned out, they happen to enjoy a much lighter travel load, staying in Sri Lanka throughout the tournament.
“When the Asia Cup was announced, we knew we’d have to travel a lot. The physios and trainers looked after us,” Babar said. “We had been preparing since the schedule was announced. Travel is a part of cricket [for which] you have to be prepared; I don’t expect it to affect our performance.”
Babar was even optimistic enough to be dismissive of rain playing spoilsport.
“The amount I’ve played here I haven’t seen the weather affect cricket. The radar might say there’s rain around but it doesn’t really happen.”