india: A week after their once-in-a-blue-moon face-off, India and Pakistan are back to facing each other in Super 4

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First came the hype and hoopla, when India played Pakistan in the Asia Cup last Sunday. That was after nearly 10 months when the two teams had met earlier at the International Cricket Council World Cup at the same venue.

But, while the history and tradition and years of build-up justified some of the anticipation, there just wasn’t enough at stake, in the context of the tournament.

After all, the third team in the group was Hong Kong, and while not taking them for granted, it would have required a miracle of sorts for them to beat either or both of India and Pakistan.

Now, exactly a week later, India play Pakistan again, and this time the stakes are much higher. In the Super4 stage of this tournament, all teams play each other once, with the top two going through to the final.

Sri Lanka have shown that they have what it takes and Afghanistan won both their matches in the league phase. With that in mind, India have to bring their A-game to the fore in the upcoming clash. There will be no room for the kind of go-slow that KL Rahul put forward against Hong Kong, scoring 36 runs from 39 balls.

Kohli did better, but even he will admit he is not yet back to his best. Rohit Sharma has looked comfortable out in the middle but he too needs a big score under the belt sooner rather than later. And, you can understand why this trio is struggling to gel at the top of the order. Before the Asia Cup, Rahul had played no T20 Internationals this year. Kohli, who has been rested and has taken breaks, had played just four T20Is in the same period. While India’s top three are getting their act together, they’ve had terrific support from the middle order.

One of the key factors in this has been Ravindra Jadeja. He plays a role not dissimilar to Hardik Pandya in that he can be counted on to bowl four overs and bat in the top six. This is why he will be sorely missed, having returned to India with an injury to his right knee. Axar Patel could come into the eleven as a like-for-like replacement, but he is not in the Jadeja league when it comes to batting or fielding.

Jadeja’s left-handedness meant that would disrupt the opposition’s bowling plans and the fact that he is a terrific runner between the wickets, when not clattering big sixes or carving the ball into unusual angles for fours. While Jadeja hasn’t been among the wickets, his bowling is always according to the situation and tight. What’s more, he was pretty much the sole reason India were able to complete their overs in time against Hong Kong.

Previously, players did not take over rates especially seriously because they would only be fined, and most of them can afford to lose match fees if this meant helping them get the right result. Now, with the change of rules, each team has 85 minutes to complete its 20 overs. They are given allowances for time lost to DRS calls, injuries to players and a drinks break, but that apart the line is drawn in the sand. At the 86th minute, if the team is two overs short of the rate, they have to have an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle for two overs.

In short, how many ever overs short they are, they are handicapped in the field for as many. In T20 cricket, where the margins are minuscule and bowlers are under maximum pressure at the end of the innings, one fewer fielder in the deep makes a massive difference. It allows batsmen to minimise risk when taking the aerial route, targeting a particular area where they know they are safe even if they do not manage to connect with the ball as cleanly as intended.

Matches can, and probably will be lost if you don’t bowl your over quickly enough.

This not only underscores Jadeja’s importance to the team, but it is also a reminder to the rest that they do not now have the cushion of a spin bowling allrounder that they have grown accustomed to. As a bowler, Jadeja’s contribution may be covered up by Axar, R Ashwin or Ravi Bishnoi, but the package he brings to the middle and the firepower he puts at the disposal of his captain cannot be easily replaced.

When the team gets in its customary pre-match huddle on Sunday, Rohit will be sure to remind each player of their specific roles and responsibility. They will need to come together and play as one, and only then will they not feel the absence of Jadeja.

DAHANI OUT Pakistan on Saturday suffered a new Asia Cup blow with fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani ruled out of the India clash due to a suspected side strain. Dahani is the third Pakistan quick to be forced out with injury after Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Wasim left the team ahead of the tournament.

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