Indian cricket great Sunil Gavaskar picked Pakistan as favorites in Virat Kohli’s absence on Wednesday ahead of their Asia Cup group stage clash in Dubai.
The last time the two rivals played what is always an emotionally charged fixture—the final of the Champions Trophy last year—Pakistan thrashed India by 180 runs.
On Tuesday, India only managed to scrape to a 26-run win over minnows Hong Kong. Pakistan kicked off their Asia Cup campaign on Sunday with a thumping win over the same opponents. “Pakistan is the favorite only because the big psychological advantage that they have of beating India in the final of the Champions Trophy,” said Gavaskar, a member of India’s 1983 World Cup-winning side. “The previous game or the ball before… always stays at the back of your mind and that creates a touch of uncertainty in your mind.”
“And Virat’s absence is going to be crucial as well,” the former captain said on Indian TV Channel Aaj Tak.
The talismanic Kohli, currently the top-ranked one-day batsman in the world, has been rested for regional six-team competition in the United Arab Emirates.
Rohit Sharma is leading the side in his absence, looking for redemption after India’s 1-4 Test loss to England.
Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar echoed Gavaskar’s views, saying “Pakistan start as favorites because they have been playing in those conditions.”
The U.A.E. has been Pakistan’s home base since 2009 when a terrorist attack on the touring Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore left six players injured, and international teams refused to tour the troubled nation.
India has suspended bilateral cricket ties against Pakistan amid political tensions, and the two only play each other in multi-nation events like the World Cup. Fans in cricket-crazy India are banking on a win against neighboring Pakistan to ease their England heartache.
“Just win against Pakistan and we will feel that we have won the Asia Cup. It will be good after the loss in England,” Anuj Verma, a cricket fan on the streets of Delhi, told AFP. “But I guess both these teams will meet in Super Four [stage] and the finals as well, so I would love to beat them twice or thrice to take revenge of our Champions Trophy final loss last year,” Verma said.
India hold the edge in Asia Cup encounters against Pakistan with a 6-5 lead in 12 matches. But Pakistan have a big 73-52 lead overall in 129 ODI games.