India and Pakistan are set to face each other a year after their last clash in T20 cricket once again, with their opening match of the Asia Cup on Sunday. Pakistan had stunned India in a 10-wicket win over their arch-rivals in the last match between the two sides at the T20 World Cup last year.
Interestingly, India are set to play with pretty much the same batting lineup this year, despite the fact that there was a major shuffle in their hierarchy after their 2021 T20 World Cup debacle with their captain and head coach both being changed. Their bowling lineup has a few key changes with ace spinner Yuzvendra Chahal in the squad and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah being unavailable.
Interestingly though, India’s batting and bowling lineup have been bolstered over the last year by the re-emergence of Hardik Pandya as a genuine all-rounder. Pandya was part of the squad in the clash against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup as well but he was hardly bowling at that point and could score only just 11 runs. In the matches since then, however, Pandya seems to have turned a corner as a batter and a bowler, even bowling and batting India to victory on numerous occassions in their successful limited overs series against the mighty England in the latter’s home ground.
Former India batter Sanjay Manjrekar feels that Pandya will be key for India when dealing with Pakistan spin bowling all-rounder Shadab Khan, who is also their highest wicket-taker. “Hardik Pandya has a pretty good record against Pakistan. If you remember the 2019 World Cup as well, he was the one who got runs in that match against Pakistan. Hardik Pandya, at the moment, is batting like a dream,” said Manjrekar on Sports 18.
“His (Pandya’s) prowess against pace and spin is there for everyone to see. Shadab Khan is a pretty competitive bowler. He is not the traditional wrist-spinner that you get; he doesn’t turn the ball massively but has the guiles that you need in T20 cricket.”
Although it was the fast bowlers led by Shaheen Afridi that tormented India in the 2021 T20 World Cup clash, Shadab played his role as well, taking the wicket of wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant and giving just 22 runs in 4 overs.
“He (Shadab) is also now more experienced than he was say three-four years back. But Hardik at the moment, as I said, is at the top of his game. So Shadab Khan – despite being a pretty good bowler – Hardik Pandya should be able to manage him. He (Pandya) is not somebody who is good against pace when the ball is coming onto the bat, but against spin, you can have him. I think he reads a leg-spinner pretty well. So shouldn’t be a problem for Hardik.”