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Asia Cup: India and Pakistan meet again with a reserve day added to avoid washout

Back in 1983, when the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) came into existence, it established a tournament called the Asia Cup “as a measure to promote goodwill between the Asian countries.” Exactly 40 years later, the tournament being played out in Sri Lanka, hosted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been an exercise in alienation and, on occasion, humiliation.

The most valuable stakeholders of this game, the fans, have had it the worst. The average Sri Lankan has been priced out of the tournament, the greatest proof of this being empty stands at the R Premadasa Stadium in Khettarama on a Saturday afternoon when the home team was playing. Longstanding cricket watchers here cannot remember a single other instance where this has happened at the home of white-ball cricket in the country.

But, a day before that, the tournament had perpetrated an even bigger absurdity on its participants. Sunday’s marquee clash between India and Pakistan would have a reserve day, in case a late evening Colombo shower prompted a repeat of what happened in Pallekele a week ago. How you can have one rule for two teams, or one game, and another for the rest, beggars belief. At no level of the game would this be considered acceptable.

What’s more, this act has comprehensively proven that, for many of those key to the running of this tournament, it is only the money that the India-Pakistan matches bring in is important. The running joke was that this was a two-match and potentially three-match India-Pakistan series, with four other Asian teams also invited to participate. That has ceased to be funny.

Unfortunately, the balance of power is skewed so badly that the Sri Lanka and Bangladesh boards cannot even raise their voices in protest. How this treatment of two boards is considered acceptable, no one can explain.

While the players have no role to play in this decision, it has certainly angered fans of the two teams. For no fault of theirs, Indian and Pakistani players are facing the wrath of these fans online.What all of this does is put a more significant burden on the on-field action to lift the tournament. The home board has done all it can to provide excellent conditions. The pitch in Pallekele was a sporting one, keeping all types of cricketers in the game.The Sri Lanka-Bangladesh match showed that there was turn on offer at the Premadasa Stadium, and although the India-Pakistan game would be played on a different surface on the same square, it should provide a slightly different dynamic.

The Pakistan pace trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Paris Rauf will still be a major threat. Early on in the innings, Pakistan’s quicks ask different questions. The one common factor is pace, however.

“Shaheen relies more on swing, while Naseem hits a hard length and can use movement off the pitch very well if there is something on offer,” said Shubman Gill a day before the match. “In different conditions and situations, each of their bowlers poses different challenges.”

India had held a full training session two days before the match, but, on Saturday, only seven players attended the optional training session. KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Tilak Varma and Gill went through their paces in bright, hot and humid conditions in the afternoon. All eyes naturally were on Rahul and Kishan, who were vying for the No. 5 wicketkeeper-batsman position. But, purely from watching the two train, it was impossible to tell which one was the frontrunner to play.

The team would have likely arrived at a decision already, and informed the players, allowing one to mentally prepare to get the job done and the other to get used to the fact that he was missing out on a big game.

Kishan showed that he has the temperament to absorb pressure and tailor his game to the situation but Rahul’s experience and his strong track record in One – Day Internationals will be hard to ignore.

The other choice India were left with was their quick bowling combination. Now that Jasprit Bumrah is back, would Mohammad Shami miss out again, or does Shardul Thakur sit out, extending the tail but strengthening the bowling?

There were no ready answers, and this team has shown that they are happy to be flexible based on the conditions and opposition.

On the outside, it may appear that they are chopping and changing, but they assure the wider world that they only tinker in order to find the combination that will give them the best possible chance of winning on the day. Or, in this case, days, in case rain plays a part.

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