Pakistan star Umar Akmal watches his teammates training at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur yesterday, ahead of today's big clash against India. PHOTO: FIROZ AHMED
Come this afternoon and almost every ear and eye from every corner of the subcontinent will be glued to their television sets in order to find a broadcast from the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium at Mirpur, for the home of Bangladesh's cricket will host one of sport's most intense, breathtaking and emotional contests.
Yes the El-clasicos, the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate or even the fierce battle between the Johnsons and Steyns have engrossed the world in the recent past but when it comes to Asia, there's nothing more electrifying than an India-Pakistan battle on a cricket field. It was a rivalry most anticipated in Bangladesh, before the Tigers themselves got a spot in the big league, and an expected full house at SBNS will be proof of that.
Traditionally, India versus Pakistan has always been a battle between India's batsmen and Pakistan's bowlers. However, going into what will be their 10th face-off in the Asia Cup, the Indians with a comparatively inexperienced middle order will be slightly more worried.
Without the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh in the middle it's going to be up to the youngsters to control the play during the crucial middle overs. It was a weakness that was exposed during their match against Sri Lanka. The middle order just could not capitalise on a good start laid down by Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. In a highly intense game such as this it will be a golden opportunity for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu to hit form.
Pakistan too have a batting problem. Their top order has not been among the runs and they were twice bailed out by Umar Akmal at number six. The other day they survived a close call against Afghanistan where they recovered from 117 for six to post 248. They will want the likes of Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmd Shehzad to fire at the top before getting down to the ever-dependable Misbahul Haq.
As far as the bowling department goes, Pakistan with three quality spinners and two pacers arguably have the most balanced bowling attack of the tournament. Pacer Junaid Khan, who got Kohli out thrice in the last four matches will be a crucial player in the match.
India's bowlers put up a fighting display against the Sri Lankans last Friday in their defence of 264. Mohammad Shami, with seven wickets in the tournament, and the economical Ravindra Jadeja clearly seem to be enjoying the Bangladeshi conditions.
Their Asia Cup head-to-head record is close with India edging ahead with five wins to Pakistan's four. In Bangladesh, India have won six out of the nine encounters. The last time the teams met in Mirpur, Virat Kohli's magical 183 helped India chase down 329. Will Kohli's bat wield its magic again, or will Pakistan get their revenge? Come tonight, the answer will come to light at the battle of Mirpur.