Kohli or Babar's time?
There is a certain camaraderie among the current generation of India and Pakistan players. Virat Kohli's gesture to Shaheen Afridi or Harris Rauf, and his remarks about Babar Azam all set a friendly tone. But beneath the surface, it is still an India-Pakistan clash and it still is arguably the biggest rivalry in world cricket despite the fact that the archnemesis only meet each other in multi-nation events. At the tip of that rivalry is the competitive wonders that are Kohli and Babar Azam.
Who is the world's best batsman? A few names would be thrown in but Kohli has proved his stature for a long time and in Babar, Pakistan have a match-winner who can thwart any opponent on his day. Much has been made of Kohli's form in recent times but in his last 13 innings, he has struck six fifties. While he was running around in a high-altitude mask on Friday, he was at ease during the endurance training. He has already notched 35 – an important knock against Pakistan in the context of that game -- and an unbeaten 59, in the two innings he played in the 2022 Asia Cup. Slowly but surely, he is making his presence felt.
"The way he has performed for his country, he is a legend," Pakistan paceman Haris Rauf said at the press conference yesterday, seemingly relaxed despite terming the game as a 'pressure game'.
On the other end of the spectrum is Babar. His form had not been a worry until only recently and Pakistan would like to shrug off his slightly concerning form. The team has not played a lot of T20s this year but the Babar-Mohammad Rizwan opening partnership would once again be Pakistan's key weapon at the top. The duo top the list of highest partnerships for Pakistan in T20Is and the T20I World Cup between the archrivals saw them notch a 10-wicket win with an unbroken partnership.
So would it be Kohli's night or Babar's this time around?
How Pakistan would handle the Kohli threat remains to be seen but India's batting lineup is swamped with world-class batters. The top-order in itself would be a huge threat for any side. When the two teams met in the T20 World Cup, Afridi took apart the India top-order with swing and pace. In Afridi's absence, such motivation will have to come from elsewhere in the bowling lineup and Naseem Shah was particularly impressive in the first game between the two sides despite India's five-wicket win with just two deliveries to spare.
"We were worried who would fill in with the new ball. Shaheen would invariably get early wickets. That gives me a lot of confidence when I came on to bowl. The way Naseem bowled in the last two matches, that has given me the confidence. Partnerships are important in bowling as well. I have been playing with Shaheen for a while. I used to be relaxed when Shaheen is around. But seeing Naseem, I am getting the situation I am comfortable to bowl in," Rauf said about Shaheen and Naseem yesterday.
The two teams have never made the final together despite the fact that either India or Pakistan have made the Asia Cup final every time since the culmination of the tournament in 1984. The Super 4 game awaits and so does Kohli, Babar and the other stars and it could turn out that both make the final this time around.