A seasoned leader like Rohit Sharma understands the “terrain” of an India-Pak contest better than most but Babar Azam’s unit won’t be mere pushovers as it has managed to narrow the gap with the arch-rivals in the past few years, said former India head coach Ravi Shastri.

India and Pakistan will be meeting in an ODI game after four years when they face off on Saturday.

“I would say India start as favourites. This is their strongest team since 2011, this mix of players. And a captain who is seasoned, who understands the terrain better than most,’ Shastri told ESPN Cricinfo on Friday.

“Having said that, Pakistan have narrowed the gap. Seven-eight years (ago), there was a gap if you looked at the strength of both teams and man to man. But Pakistan have narrowed it down. They are a very good side, so you have to be on top of your game.”

While Indian teams during the last two decades have dominated the proceedings against the cross-border nation, the former head coach wants players not to over-hype the game in their minds.

The last time India faced Pakistan was at the 2022 ICC Twenty20 World Cup in Melbourne where Virat Kohli starred with an unbeaten half-century to guide India to victory.

“That’s what’s important, keeping calm and treating it as just another game. And not over-hype it in your mind that makes you think differently. Your game has to be the same as it would be in any other game. But because of that subconscious pressure, it’s the mentally tough guys who normally get it right,” Shastri said.

According to Shastri, Kohli showed time and again how he lifts his game against Pakistan and he feels that even if mentally tough guys go through a lean patch during the season, some of them find that competitive juice at the right time on biggest of stages.

“And never go by form before an India-Pakistan game, because the tough-minded, mentally strong guys might not have done much six months back, but come the India-Pakistan game, they will come (to the fore).

“They know the importance of that game, they know where it can catapult them if they do well. Their juices will be fired up,” Shastri said.

Shastri also praised Babar Azam’s conversion rate in ODIs as the Pakistan skipper has an astounding 19 hundreds from 104 games.

“He (Babar) converts those 30s and 40s starts into hundreds,” Shastri pointed out.

“And it is so important. We keep saying to go out there and face a number of balls, but if one of your top three gets a hundred, you get 300-plus.”

(With inputs from PTI)