Pakistan got their Asia Cup 2023 campaign off to a flyer with a dominant win over Nepal. While they won by a whopping 238 runs, it wasn’t as straightforward for Pakistan as the victory margin suggests though, as Nepal had put the hosts in a tricky position bowling first. It required a 150-plus total from captain Babar Azam, a 71-ball 109 from Iftikhar Ahmed and a 214-run stand between them off just 131 balls for Pakistan to put the game beyond Nepal’s reach. They now face the difficult prospect of facing record winners India in Pallekele, Sri Lanka in their second match.
India will be going in with arguably their strongest possible side. Let’s take a look at five players one has to watch out for.
1. Virat Kohli (275 matches, 12,898 runs; Average: 57.32, 46 centuries, 65 half-centuries)
His career stats scream records and while Kohli may have only played once in a bilateral series against Pakistan, he has a fairly good record over the years against them in ODIs. In the 13 matches that he has played against India’s arch-rivals, Kohli has scored 536 runs at an average of 48.72 with two centuries and as many half-centuries. The first of those centuries, a blistering 183 off 148 in Mirpur during the 2012 Asia Cup, remains the highest score of his illustrious ODI career while the second was scored during the 2015 World Cup. It has to be noted, though, that Kohli played only three ODIs against Pakistan since then in which he has scored 81 not out, 5 and 77. His machine-like efficiency may have faltered in the last few years but memories of Kohli pulling off a heist from a completely hopeless situation for India against Pakistan will be pretty fresh in the minds of the hosts. Moreover, almost all of Pakistan’s senior players have publicly expressed their admiration for the former India captain on multiple occasions and so it is pretty clear that Kohli remains the most prized Indian wicket.
2. Rohit Sharma (244 matches, 9837 runs; Average: 48.69, 30 centuries, 48 half centuries)
The Indian captain has prioritised getting his team off to flying starts over making the daddy hundreds he used to be famous for but that only makes all the more dangerous from a Pakistani perspective. Rohit has scored 720 runs in the 16 matches that he has played against Pakistan in the ODI format, scoring two centuries and six half-centuries. His last match against Pakistan is one the latter won’t remember fondly. Rohit smashed 140 in 113 balls in the 2019 World Cup fixture, the second of five centuries he would score in that tournament as India beat Paistan by 89 runs via the DLS method. However, in the years since that tournament, Rohit has scored just three ODI centuries and his last 150-plus score came in December 2019. With Shaheen Afridi having a penchant for taklng a wicket in the first over of matches, Pakistan would hope that their pace spearhead can neutralise the threat that Rohit poses quickly.
3. Jasprit Bumrah (72 matches, 121 wickets; Average: 24.30)
A combination of injuries and schedule clashes has led to Bumrah not playing an ODI match in over a year. The Indian pace spearhead last played an ODI on July 14, 2022 and took two wickets but India went on to lose to England by 100 runs. Shortly after that came a series of injury breaks that would culminate in him missing out on last year’s Asia Cup, T20 World Cup and the World Test Championship final among a plethora of other big matches. He looked good on his comeback in India’s recent three-match T20I series against Ireland though and insisted that he had been training for ODI matches back home immediately before joining the team for that tour. Bumrah has played just five ODIs against Pakistan and has taken four wickets. He was, rather unusually, among India’s most expensive bowlers during the 2017 Champions Trophy which Pakistan won despite the former being heavy favourites. While he had better outings in the next two matches, Bumrah ended with figures of 0/52 in eight overs in the last match between these two sides at the 2019 World Cup. He might be interested in straightening his record.
4. Ishan Kishan (17 matches, 694 runs; Average 46.26, one century, 6 half-centuries)
Where will Ishan Kishan bat and how will that affect the rest of the Indian batting lineup is one of the big questions going into the start of the tournament. The absence of KL Rahul in the first two matches of the tournament has all but confirmed that Kishan will find a place in the squad. While there is intention for an opening spot and in the top three, Kishan has kept a firm foot in the doorway to make sure it doesn’t shut with some extraordinary performances in the format, starting with his maiden century that he converted into a double century. With Shubman Gill then going into overdrive, Kishan had to wait for his chance. He had a disappointing run in the four matches he played after that, but then bounced back by scoring a hat-trick of half-centuries in India’s tour of the West Indies earlier this year.
5. Shubman Gill (27 matches, 1437 runs; Average: 62.47, 4 centuries, 6 half-centuries)
Gill seemed to have cemented himself as Rohit’s opening partner with the bumper performances he put in earlier this year. When Ishan Kishan threatened his position with a double century, he responded by scoring a century and a double century in back-to-back matches against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, then scoring an unbeaten 40 in a successful chase before scoring another century in the next game. However, he then had a topsy-turvy time facing Australia at home and in the away tour of the West Indies, although he ended the ODI leg of that with a classy 85 off 92. It is highly likely that India will field Gill but it remains to be seen if he will open or come in at No.3. Regardless of where he comes in though, Gill has shown that he can be a dangerous customer once he settles in.