Mirpur: An year on since that epic World Cup semi-final in Mohali, India and Pakistan are set to face off again, having nailed in their tents this time at Mirpur – venue for their Asia Cup clash. But unlike their last battle – when it was a knockout for both the teams – it's a must-win match only for India as Pakistan have already booked a place in the final.
The euphoria of Sachin Tendulkar's hundredth century was snuffed out by Bangladesh on Friday, who chased down a 290-run target to inflict a five-wicket defeat on the visitors. That loss, which followed a victory over Sri Lanka, has put India in almost a knockout situation against Pakistan on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pakistan go into the high-voltage clash with a clean chit, having beaten the hosts and the Lankans in their two previous matches. Those wins earned them a top spot in the points table, with a bonus point, and hence an entry into the final.
Batting has never been a worry on the docile subcontinent tracks, as evidence by the totals of 304 and 289 achieved by the World Champions so far. Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Tendulkar have a century each under their belt. And the success of top-order has allowed the likes of Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni up the ante at the death with wickets in hand.
However, the lower middle order hasn't had much of a hit. After being not required against Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja faced just 9 and 8 balls respectively against Bangladesh coming in to bat after the 45th over. So that should allow Rohit to keep his place in the top six.
But conceding 85 runs in the last 10 overs against Bangladesh is a big worry for Dhoni. Irfan Pathan went for 61 in 9 overs and Ashok Dinda was plundered for 38 in his 5.2 overs. Praveen bowled well until the penultimate over of the chase, in which he leaked 13 runs to end up with a spell of 3 for 56.
So Dhoni must be weighing his options, which are far and few in this squad. The pressure that a Pakistan match brings with it also has to be considered, for you need skills and experience in equal measure against your archenemy.
In that scenario, Vinay Kumar, who sat out on Friday with a niggle, could be the only change in the team. He should replace Dinda. Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin should remain the two spinners in the XI, with Irfan Pathan filling up as a bowling all-rounder.
Pakistan, on the other hand, are sitting pretty – with a chance to try out youngsters before the big final. But given the enormity of a match against India, not many changes are expected in their XI as well.
Mohammad Hafeez, Naseer Jamshed, Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal have all scored a half-century each in the tournament so far. However, old guard Younis Khan has failed in both the matches so far. So Pakistan will be keen that their experienced No. 3 rises to the occasion and strikes form in this big clash.
In bowling, Umar Gul and Aizaz Cheema (five wickets each so far) have bowled well with the new ball and at the death. Their leading spinner Saeed Ajmal – who also has five wickets against his name - has been difficult to get away and will remain the biggest challenge for the in-form Indian batsmen. Shahid Afridi has been his fluent self with the leg-spinners but hasn't fired with the bat so far, having scored a nought against Bangladesh. Due for a cameo, he remains a threat for India.
So if anything, Pakistan may bring in Asad Shafiq in place of Hammad Azam as the only change in their XI from the last match against Sri Lanka.
An Indian victory will not only take them virtually into the final but also shut the door on Sri Lanka, who have so far lost both their matches. But if India lose and then Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh, then all three will be on four points, leaving the net run rate to decide the second finalist.
India: Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c/wk), Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin, Vinay Kumar, Praveen Kumar.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.