Rival captains Sarfraz Ahmed and Rohit Sharma played down the hype surrounding the much-awaited India-Pakistan clash in Dubai on Wednesday, insisting that the Asia Cup is much more than a contest between the rivals. But despite their claims, millions of fans across the border and elsewhere in the world will be watching the Group A clash, with a sold out 25,000-crowd expected at Dubai Stadium.
The game is the first between the sub-continent rivals since Pakistan thumped India by 180 runs in the final of the Champions Trophy at The Oval in June last year.
The two teams are facing each other for the first time in the United Arab Emirates since 2006, the last of their regular matches, which were also held in Sharjah between 1984-2000.
Sarfraz, who led Pakistan in that memorable Champions Trophy triumph, denied that his team would have a psychological advantage. “We will not take that Champions Trophy win in our minds,” said Sarfraz on Monday, a day after his team thumped qualifiers Hong Kong in their first match of the tournament. “That was a different atmosphere [in London] and conditions. It was a year ago so that’s history so we will enter the ground with a new strategy and passion.”
India will also meet Hong Kong in Dubai on Tuesday to tune up for the big match.
India’s regular captain and world-class batsman Virat Kohli has been rested for the competition to help his aching back after a grueling tour of England.
But Sarfraz refused to accept Kohli’s absence would make much difference. “No doubt he [Kohli] is their captain and a world-class batsman but I think they [India] have a good team even without Kohli. They have good players who have done well for India. So I don’t think it will make much difference to India. Their batting is very strong so I can say that it will be a good match.”
Sarfraz has told his players just to enjoy the occasion. “My message to the players is not to bother about the result and do [their] best and when you do that you get a positive result in all matches because there are five other teams as well,” he said.
Five-time Asia Cup champions Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are in Group B.
India have won the event—which started in 1984—six times, while Pakistan have been champions twice.
Two teams from each group will qualify for the Super Four stage, with the top two to reach the Sept. 28 final. So barring any upsets against Hong Kong, India and Pakistan will also face off again in the Super Four on Sept. 23.
India skipper Sharma said his team would be looking beyond Pakistan. “It’s always exciting to play Pakistan, but it’s not about one team as well. There are other teams also eyeing the title,” said Sharma, who has the rare record of scoring three one-day international double hundreds.
All six teams have to endure extreme hot conditions in the U.A.E., with the temperature scaling to over 40 degrees Celsius and expected to rise further in the coming days.
Sharma said his side would get a chance to assess the conditions in their match against Hong Kong. “Once we finish the first game we will look at Pakistan, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Looking at the pitch, I think we have the perfect combination and the guys to do the job. A few players have come from England so it’s going to be a challenge for them. For the rest of us, we have been here for the last four days so I can probably say we are very much used to the conditions. It’s game time, so we have to focus on the game rather than the conditions.”