Dubai: There was no dearth of ammunition for today’s contest being yet another one of those India-Pakistan classics — but maybe one has to wait for another day. The crowd had slowly but surely filled up the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, the sea of Tricolours and the famous green flag with the star had set up the ambience all right, but the league fixtures of the Asia Cup failed to live up to the expectations.
It was the first time that the two traditional rivals were facing off after their high-voltage Champions Trophy final last year in England where Sarfraz Ahmad & Co had turned the tables on India. An inept batting performance from Pakistan, during which only the gifted Babar Azam and senior pro Shoaib Malek showed some discipline, set the tempo for a somewhat predictable evening today.
There was a bit of disturbing news from the Indian camp, though, when their all-rounder Hardik Pandya lost his balance during the follow through of a delivery — and lay sprawled in pain. There were concern all around as he was strapped and stretchered off the ground and news from the Indian camp is that he has suffered an acute lower back injury that should effectively rule him out for the rest of the tournament.
An early arrival at the stadium to beat the traffic made it difficult to believe though that the venue would be hosting an India-Pakistan match in a few hours’ time. The sporadic groups of Indian and Pakistan fans, sporting the national colours and carrying the national flags, were just about filtering in while the only group of men who were proactive were some of the legends of the game!
A ‘Who’s Who’ of cricket including Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Laxman, Laxman Shivaramakrishnan, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Aamir Sohail and Kevin Pietersen — all members of the TV commentary team — were seen ‘warming up’ in the middle to check if it’s all systems go.
The thing about Pakistan’s former greats is the bonhomie and the mutual respect they share with their country’s travelling journalists — making it virtually like one family. Akhtar, ever his abrasive self as he was catching up some action from the press box, thundered as Azam hit a screeching cover drive during his innings: “Come on Babar, carry on.”
With India and Pakistan both certain to go through to the Super Four stage, the paying audience can hope for what’s being referred to as a virtual ‘best-of-three’ among the two arch-rivals. While the arch-rivals are due to clash again in Dubai in the Super Four on Sunday, there’s a strong possibility of them squaring off in the final too!
“This one you guys will win, but we will beat you in the final,” Akhtar said in jest to a group of Indian reporters before leaving for a commentary session.
Will Asia Cup see an encore of the Champions Trophy final then? One has to wait until September 28 to know that.