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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Asia Cup: India's Ravindra Jadeja to lend balance in game against Pakistan

Here are the players who are most likely to make an impact in the Super Four match between the arch-rivals in Dubai on Sunday

All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is looking to make a comeback into India's limited-overs side. AFP
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is looking to make a comeback into India's limited-overs side. AFP

India and Pakistan face off in Dubai once again – this time at the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup – on Sunday.

It is a game just as important as the one in the group stage of the tournament, especially as the competition for the final spots tightens a great deal in the coming week. Yet, it serves as an ideal opportunity for both sides – particularly a tired Indian team – to rest some of their personnel and test others.

Here are the players – either established or on the fringes – who might prove crucial to their respective teams’ chances.

Jadeja key but what about a third seamer?

Ravindra Jadeja was an important member of India's limited-overs side for the best part of the past seven years.

As captain, MS Dhoni found him an asset because he lent balance to the XI. A left-arm spinner with more than 150 one-day internationals wickets, Jadeja has also scored close to 2,000 runs at a healthy average of 31.37.

But that changed more than a year ago when the emergence of pace-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya meant he was no longer needed for balance. Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin also became surplus to requirements because of the rise of wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, whose willingness to take risks to get wickets was favoured over the reticence of the experienced duo.

But with Pandya injured, Jadeja is once again in the team's calculations – not least because of his all-round performance in the dead rubber Test against England earlier this month.

He made the perfect comeback by taking four wickets after being picked to play against Bangladesh on Friday. However, a problem arises if India want to include a third seamer for the Pakistan game to share the workload with the new-ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah.

In which case, they may have to drop one of Chahal or Kuldeep to accommodate either Shadrul Thakur or Khaleel Ahmed, who was excellent against Hong Kong.

But if they choose to drop Jadeja to preserve the spin duo and have a third seamer, India risk ditching experience and going into the game with just six specialist batsmen and five bowlers.

India, with an ageing squad, should be investing more time in the development of young players such as Lokesh Rahul. Reuters
India, with an ageing squad, should be investing more time in the development of young players such as Lokesh Rahul. Reuters

Why is Rahul not being picked?

On the one hand, it makes sense to give Lokesh Rahul a break: he played in all three Twenty20s, two of the three ODIs and all five Tests during India’s recent England tour.

Yet, his non-selection for all three Asia Cup matches India have played so far makes no sense. Not after the selectors opted to rest captain Virat Kohli.

Rahul is one of a handful of Indian players to have scored centuries in all three formats of the game and, at 26 years old, he is one for the future. Considering Kohli will join Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav in the 30-and-over club by the time next year's World Cup is upon us, the selectors need to take the long view.

He should be given a go on Sunday.

Fakhar Zaman has been one of the most successful batsmen in ODI cricket over the past year. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Fakhar Zaman has been one of the most successful batsmen in ODI cricket over the past year. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Beware of Pakistan's top-four

Key Pakistan batsmen will have gained confidence from their match-winning contributions against Afghanistan on Friday. Imam-ul-Haq (80), Babar Azam (66) and Shoaib Malik (51 not out) will all be in a better frame of mind against India.

One player who has missed out in this series so far, and could possibly be dropped for Sunday's game, is opener Fakhar Zaman. The left-hander has so far accumulated scores of 24, 0 and 0 against Hong Kong, India and Afghanistan respectively. Clearly, he is finding his second year in international cricket a little more challenging.

Zaman became an overnight sensation after he stroked a wonderful match- and championship-winning hundred in the final of the Champions Trophy against India at The Oval in 2017. It sparked a run of form that saw the 28 year old score more than 1,000 ODI runs.

India's bowlers will certainly be wary of him knowing what he is capable of. He seems to be of a different class, and with Pakistan's other batsmen in good nick, the management should give Zaman the time and opportunities to find his way back into form.

He might just be due a big one.

India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled brilliantly against Pakistan in Dubai on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National
India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled brilliantly against Pakistan in Dubai on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Bhuvi-Bumrah pair going strong

Two fast bowlers capable of giving Zaman and Co lots of trouble - just like they did on Wednesday - are Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah.

The right-arm seamers have formed a formidable new-ball pair for India over the past year, and much to India's fortune they have also proved effective at the death with the old ball.

They are both relatively fresh, too, with the former having missed the entire Test series against England and the latter having been brought back for the third Test.

If they can bowl through this tournament without breaking down, India will fancy their chances of not just beating Pakistan but also, perhaps, defending the title.

Jasprit Bumrah is fast becoming India's most important fast bowler in all formats of the game. AFP
Jasprit Bumrah is fast becoming India's most important fast bowler in all formats of the game. AFP