Dicey scheduling, tough weather conditions, players grappling with fatigue, and a team’s captain and star batsman is missing. It appears that the stakeholders of the Asia Cup have tried everything possible to kill the joy of an India-Pakistan clash.
It isn’t every day that India and Pakistan cross swords. Considering the political tension between the two countries, these matches are among the rarest in world cricket. The Dubai International Cricket Stadium is reportedly sold out for Wednesday’s match but the buildup and the overall buzz still remains underwhelming, despite it being the first encounter between the arch-rivals since the Champions Trophy final in 2017. India had been humbled in that contest as Pakistan coasted to a 180-run win.
After such a hiding, India should have gone into the Asia Cup with an aim to make amends. Instead, the talk in the lead-up to the clash has been about the absence of Kohli, who chose to take a break during this period to recharge his batteries following a full tour of England.
With India-Pakistan matches reducing in frequency, such a high-profile absentee would have been strict no-no in the years gone by. But, despite the circumstances, one cannot hold a grudge against the skipper who has hopped between the three formats and still delivered consistently.
Kohli has been complaining about India’s hectic schedule for a while now. A decision to take a break wasn’t outlandish considering the team had just returned from a taxing tour of England. In fact, it wouldn’t have been wrong if more Indian cricketers had opted to sit out.
Most of the players who played in England landed in Dubai three days before the Asia Cup, after going home for a couple of days. The tired bunch did not have much time to acclimatise to the heat of Dubai, where temperatures have crossed the 40-degree mark.
The team had to jump straight into a clash against minnows Hong Kong. The management decided to rest a few key players. India won by 26 runs, but the manner in which they achieved the win was far from ideal.
They now face Pakistan – without a break – due to some world-class scheduling. Incidentally, BCCI is the host country for the event. Their scheduling has even left Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed miffed as India play all their games in Dubai even as the rest shuttle between the glitzy city and UAE capital Abu Dhabi.
The crux of the matter is that a marquee clash that usually is talk of the town has instead been diluted by the shoddy scheduling.
Also factor in the amount of cricket being played. India have been on the road for two months now. Even the players seem disinterested. Kohli, thanks to his impervious form and star power, at least has a choice; the rest have to toe the line or risk being dumped in the highly competitive setup.
But the allure of an India-Pakistan game is much higher. It is unlikely that the average Indian fan can tune out for long. The game against Hong Kong itself drew a lot of attention. Billed as a curtain-raiser ahead of the showpiece, it attracted a quite a lot of chatter on social media. It is likely to be carried forward when India and Pakistan come up against each other.
Sachin Tendulkar’s 98 at Centurion, Venkatesh Prasad and his send-off of Aamir Sohail at Sharjah, Misbah’s mishit at Johannesburg. The memories of an India-Pakistan clash hold a special place in the hearts of the cricket fan.
But instead of nurturing the tie and taking steps to enrich the quality, the Asian Cricket Council, the BCCI and its officials have tried their best to botch up a high-profile contest. Hopefully, the quality of the contest and support from the fans will overshadow all that they have done wrong in the lead-up to the match.