Every time there is an Asia Cup around, its relevance is brought into question. Is it not enough that it brings together India and Pakistan for an actual game of cricket outside the World Cup and Champions Trophy? This edition has the potential of as many as three matches between them. It is not the case but even if the rest of the tournament is a facade to just find a way to have these teams play, it is worth it.
Since their last bilateral engagement in the first week of 2013, the two sides have faced each other only 12 times, four of them in the Asia Cup. Among Full Members, they have played only Afghanistan and Ireland less frequently in this period.
To have them play frequently is important because the more India and Pakistan play each other, the less jingoistic the fans' reaction becomes, the less the chances of a repeat of what Mohammed Shami had to face
the last time these two teams played.
Among the players themselves, distance has made their hearts grow fonder. Just look at the concern India's players have for the fitness of Shaheen Shah Afridi, their wrecker the last time they played, in the video that has gone viral
Since that match, India have shed a lot of their inhibition with the bat. Pakistan have shed some ageing batters, but they are still anchor-heavy, which works only in great bowling units. And their bowling is not the same as the last time around. Apart from Afridi not being there
, Imad Wasim is missing, and Hasan Ali is back at the last minute only because Mohammad Wasim got injured
. That points to the ordinary form of Hasan.
India, too, will be missing Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel, but they still look more settled coming into the Asia Cup. They are tactically much more switched on than they were earlier. However, come match day in T20 cricket, these things can all be blown out of the park. Especially when you play each other as infrequently as these teams do.
India WWWLW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
and Babar Azam
. We don't yet know if they are peas from the same pod but the spotlight is sure to follow them wherever they go. Kohli has bought into the team philosophy of taking more risks even though he has himself not been getting the runs. Forget the external noise, it can be silenced, but is the trust the team is putting in him despite an extended dry run now becoming a bit of pressure?
Babar continues to be the run machine but does he trust the batters after him
sufficiently to play a more enterprising game? It will be in sharp focus now that their bowling attack doesn't look as strong as it did last year. Especially if Pakistan are sent in to bat first at a chase-friendly venue.
It is incredible that India could be going into the match with the same top seven as last year but still hold a completely different outlook and threat. It is not likely that they take a player of Kohli's stature into the squad and then make him sit. That leaves Rishabh Pant
and Dinesh Karthik
for one slot. Pant is a more all-round batter and is the only left-hand batter in the top six; Karthik is a specialist finisher. Tough choice.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul 2 Rohit Sharma (capt) 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Rishabh Pant/Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 R Ashwin/Avesh Khan, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Pakistan's top seven is more or less settled, leaving some debate over the bowlers. With Shadab Khan being the vice-captain, it is unlikely they will be going for two wristspinners, so Mohammad Nawaz is likely to pip Usman Qadir. With Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah providing high pace, they could pick the control of Shahnawaz Dahani over Mohammad Hasnain.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Asif Ali, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Khushdil Shah, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz/Usman Qadir, 9 Shahnawaz Dahani/Mohammad Hasnain, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Naseem Shah
Pitch and conditions
The World Cup last year and all the IPLs in the UAE, where matches began at 6pm, are a clear indicator that Dubai tilts the scales heavily in favour of the chasing side. There is some tackiness early on, and there is dew to contend with for only one side, as opposed to both teams in case of late starts.
Other than that, keep an eye out for the oppressive heat. Even during the night, the temperatures are expected to hover around 35°C.
Stats and trivia
- India lead Pakistan 8-5 on head-to-head in the Asia Cup, both formats put together. They are on a three-match winning streak.
- This will be Kohli's 100th T20I, making him only the second player after Ross Taylor to play 100 international games in all three formats.
"When there is an opportunity to try different combinations, we will try. Along the way, if we make mistakes or face difficulties, we're okay with that. We have spoken about it as a group, and there is nothing to fear."
Rohit Sharma says India will keep experimenting in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup
"Honestly, that [last World Cup] game is a thing of the past now. It won't have an impact on Sunday's match. I am completely focused on tomorrow's game. The teams are kind of different, the conditions are different. Although as a side we are confident, we won't talk big ahead of the game. We wish to prove it on the field."
Babar Azam doesn't want to be drawn into the hype of the last year's World Cup win
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo