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Damp squib or a blockbuster? India-Pakistan rivalry eyes quality revival

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Will India dominate Pakistan again? (2:14)

Deep Dasgupta says Pakistan tried too hard to 'prove a point' in their previous meeting against India, and expects them to be sharper and more professional in the Super Four clash (2:14)

Big Picture

Is there a point to hyping up an India-Pakistan contest again after the damp squib on Wednesday? After all, the last four games between these sides have turned out to be an eight-wicket win, a 180-run win, a 124-run win and a 76-run win. The build-up to all of those would have been frenzied, only for one-sided affairs to end up making a mockery of the publicity that preceded them.

It seems prudent, therefore, to approach this game with a pinch of caution. With the group-stage game between these two sides truly living up to its billing as a dead rubber, there is no reason to presume this one will turn out to be the thriller fans of this iconic rivalry fantasise about each time these two countries do battle.

India look like the settled behemoth they usually are in limited-overs cricket, and, with one game, the dark memories of the Champions Trophy final have receded firmly into distant history. Wednesday's game was the affirmation they needed to be convinced they had finally turned the tables on a rivalry Pakistan have dominated for much of these countries' histories. The Oval in 2017, they may now feel confident, was truly an aberration, and Dubai last week a regression to the mean. The new status-quo.

They are the only unbeaten side this tournament, with the stiffest challenge they faced so far against Hong Kong in a game where they rested several key players. When they fielded full-strength teams, Pakistan and Bangladesh were comfortably outgunned. At the same venue, three days later, there shouldn't be any reason to presume Pakistan will be a more challenging prospect.

Except, if that's the way they approach the game, they may just be playing into Pakistan's hands. At their best just when everyone writes them off, this could be the moment for Pakistan to spring a surprise, just as they did two weeks after a group stage drubbing at the Champions Trophy last year. Mickey Arthur and his men will try to airbrush Wednesday's game out of their mind and continue to reinforce the one at The Oval instead, reminding them what they're capable of. Pakistan are recovering from a draining contest against Afghanistan, both mentally and physically, that they barely deserved to win. It was a shoddy performance, both in the field and with the bat, and despite all the unpredictability that surrounds this enigmatic team, there is one certainty: if they play like that against India, they will lose, and lose heavily.

The biggest point of intrigue surrounds the Pakistan line-up. The one they fielded against Afghanistan was chock-a-block with spinners, both full and part-time, as Pakistan desperately tried to compensate for Shadab Khan's absence and a botched squad selection that saw far too many pacers and not nearly as many slow bowlers included for the pitches the UAE offers. Against India, they are likely to keep to that strategy, although it is worth noting India play spin - even world-class spin - better than any side in the world. The sight of Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik or Fakhar Zaman turning their arms over is unlikely to leave them quaking in their boots.

Form guide

India WWWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan WLWWW

In the spotlight

Jasprit Bumrah's figures of 2 for 23 against Pakistan were stellar enough, but they still didn't quite do him justice. He took the wickets of lower-order batsman Faheem Ashraf and No. 11 Usman Khan, but had just as important a role to play in the fall of the two openers with the new ball. The wickets - and the Player-of-the-Match award - might have gone to his seam partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but Bumrah helped build the pressure from the other end by refusing to provide any opportunity to either batsmen to free their arms.

The maiden he bowled to Fakhar must have played a part in the usually clear-headed Imam charging Bhuvneshwar first ball of the next over, giving up his wicket in the process. The next over Bumrah bowled was another maiden, this time to Babar. And what did Fakhar do first ball of the following over? Play a false shot and give his wicket away. If cricket did assists, Bumrah would have had two. Expect him to do the same on Sunday. This time, he may get wickets of his own, too.

Far too often in the past, Pakistan have crumbled with the bat against India, especially if a good start is not to be had. At a time when there is little substance coming from the middle order, Babar Azam's importance to Pakistan's cause cannot be overstated. He was the one to rebuild both against India and Afghanistan, and it was his dismissal that swung the game decisively back in India's favour after he and Malik had begun to put on a partnership; Pakistan slumped from 85 for 2 to 121 for 7 after that. If Pakistan bat first, they don't just require a solid 40 or 50 from their young talisman. He has a penchant for scoring regular hundreds, and he could hardly bring one up at a more opportune time. If he digs in, we could have the classic previous India-Pakistan matches have fallen well short of.

Team news

India stay in Dubai and fatigue should not be an issue. They have added another spinner in Ravindra Jadeja since the Pakistan game, and are likely to unleash all three on Sunday. It would be surprising if they didn't field an unchanged side, given a win assures qualification. That would mean they can rotate players for the final game.

India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 MS Dhoni (wk), 5 Dinesh Karthik, 6 Kedhar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Shadab, Pakistan's only spinner in the same league as any of the three India will field on Sunday, is fit, which makes a huge difference to Pakistan's chances. He should be a shoo-in, with Mohammad Amir likely to continue to warm the bench. Shaheen Afridi was unfortunate but still impressed against Afghanistan, and may keep his place, in which case Haris Sohail would be the likeliest to make way.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan/Haris Sohail, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Usman Khan

Pitch and conditions

A fresh pitch will be used for this game, with the curator promising greater pace and bounce than has been evident in the tournament so far. That will be welcome news to Pakistan, who draw their bowling strength from their battery of pacers. The heat continues to be the enduring issue, and both sides will be eager to put the other in the field under the blazing sun. Pitches are slow, and swing is in short supply, so expect plenty of overs to be bowled by the spinners.

Stats and trivia

  • The game against India on Wednesday was the first time Usman Khan went wicketless in an ODI. He also returned figures of 0 for 58 against Afghanistan the game after, sending his bowling average up from 10.55 two games ago to 15.27.

  • Rohit Sharma is 94 runs from becoming the ninth Indian batsman to score 7,000 runs in ODIs. Of active Indian players, only MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are ahead of him.