On 24 October 2021, Neroli Meadows was anchoring the pre-match show on the boundary line at the Dubai International Stadium, with experts VVS Laxman, Dale Steyn and Shane Watson all sprucely dressed in keeping with the occasion. Posed with the opening query was Laxman, in vain though as the quartet's proximity to the blue-clad fans rendered her inaudible. Waving the tricolour, armed with banners, they made their excitement known. However, seven balls from young Shaheen Afridi was all it took for the decibel meter to nosedive to nought.
India's campaign in the T20 World Cup started on a sour note as Pakistan romped home by 10 wickets, and the subsequent loss against New Zealand was a punch in the gut, evaporating the qualification hopes of a team that if not labelled the favourites was backed to make it to the eliminators without a hitch. India did not return empty-handed from Australia though, for they were presented a grave reality check. Their T20 cricket was in shambles, the conservative batting belonging to a bygone era.
"We've made it very clear after the T20 World Cup in Dubai, where we didn't qualify for the finals, that we felt there needed to be a change in our attitude and approach in how we play our game," Rohit Sharma said after India won 19 out of 23 completed T20Is since the eye-opening exit in the marquee event. A reinvigorated batting philosophy has been at the heart of this turnaround, with India showing an adamance to go hard in the PowerPlay – run-rate has climbed from 7.87 (2021) to 8.67 (2022) – and a refusal to sit back in the middle overs, even if the opposition is chipping away at the wickets.
While India's calendar is, quite logically, filled to the brim with T20Is, Pakistan have, rather astonishingly, played a solitary T20I in a World Cup year so far. A 34-match PSL saw their batters swing for the fences and the bowlers nail those tramline yorkers, but Pakistan come into the Asia Cup largely undercooked as a unit. On top of that, they'll be rueing the services of Shaheen, who has torn a knee ligament. The absence of the left-arm spearhead, while disconcerting to Pakistan, has robbed India of an opportunity to test their preparedness against top-grade swing bowling, by KL Rahul's own admission.
The Indian vice-captain is himself short on game time, and if the management retains faith in him despite having trialled seven openers in 2022 for flexibility purposes, he'd like to ensure that this time around the loyalists cheer and clap deep into the night.
What: India vs Pakistan, 2nd Match, Group A
When: 7:30 PM IST, 02:00 PM GMT / 06:00 PM LOCAL
Where: Dubai International Cricket Stadium
What to expect: In the 2021 T20 World Cup, chasing teams reigned supreme in 12 out of the 13 games in Dubai including the final between Australia and New Zealand.
Hello DUBAI 🇦🇪August 24, 2022
Injury/Availability Concerns: Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel were ruled out due to a back niggle and side strain respectively.
Probable XI: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan
PakistanInjury/Availability Concerns: After Shaheen's injury-enforced withdrawal from the tournament, Pakistan have copped another blow as quick Mohammad Wasim pulled up with back pain during training. Hasan Ali has been named as replacement.
Probable XI: Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Usman Qadir, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan
What they said: "We are all very excited. As players, we always look forward to this India-Pakistan clash in big tournaments. As we have seen, there is a huge history and rivalry. The games have always been high-intensity. Just like the fans, we also cannot run away from the emotions that come naturally during these matches,'' KL Rahul acknowledges the hubbub around the blockbuster in store.