There was an interesting moment in the press conference addressed by chief selector Ajit Agarkar and Indian skipper Rohit Sharma. Agarkar was asked by one of the media personnel as to how India will deal with the pace challenge posed by the trio of Pakistani speedsters Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah and the former India pacer had a quick answer: Virat Kohli.
“Virat Kohli will take care of them,‘’ was the sharp and witty answer that Agarkar came up with and therein lies a story. Although, Agarkar is partly right as to how Kohli has been very successful against the Pakistani pace attack, it is quite a challenge that the Indians will be up against. The Pakistani bowling attack is arguably one of the best pace attacks in limited overs cricket and they pack a powerful punch.
SHAHEEN SHAH AFRIDI
The tall and lanky 23-year-old has been a sensation of sorts for Pakistan ever since he made his ODI debut in 2018 against Afghanistan. The pacer has an impressive record in ODI cricket with 72 wickets from 37 matches with an economy of 5.48 and an average of 23.4. Shaheen has best figures of 6/35 which is a vindication of the relentless damage that he is capable of inflicting upon the opposition.
However, what Indian fans will remember the most about Shaheen Shah Afridi will be how he shocked India in the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 in Dubai. The Pakistani pace spearhead had got Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul out off successive deliveries in almost similar fashion. The Shaheen demolition act had triggered off a collapse for India and thereafter a supreme batting performance from Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan ensured Pakistan registered their first ever victory over India in the history of limited over World Cups.
The inswinging yorker that befuzzled Rohit and Rahul kept India on tenterhooks whenever they faced Shaheen thereafter creating a psychological imprint on them. It was only after Kohli’s iconic 2022 T20 World Cup innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) that the Indians were able to exorcise the ghosts of Dubai 2021.
Rauf, who is a product of the Big Bash League and Pakistan Super League, is a vastly improved bowler from his formative years in international cricket. What makes him stand out is his ability to extract plenty of pace and bowl a penetrative line that makes a batsman vulnerable to get out either bowled, caught behind or leg before wicket.
The Lahore Qalandars bowler, who is in ominous form at the moment after scalping a career-best 5/18 in 6.2 overs against Afghanistan on Tuesday, is someone the Indian batsmen will have to closely watch out for. Rauf does not have a conventional bowling action and is a bit skiddy with his run up and follow through. The former Melbourne Stars player varies his release points very intelligently to fox batsmen and has been honing his craft quite masterfully in the last year or so.
In fact, in the very same match where Kohli famously struck him for that now iconic six at the MCG, Rauf was giving all Indian batsmen including Kohli a tough time. His deliveries that were pitching on off and middle and in good length areas were ensuring the batsmen were sufficiently cramped for space. It took the genius of Kohli to actually put away Rauf and guide India to a famous win.
At the Asia Cup, India will have to overcome the Rauf challenge to emerge victorious against Pakistan.
The youngest and the most promising pace bowler in the Pakistani ranks is Naseem Shah. The 20-year-old Shah has been creating waves in international cricket for Pakistan with his wicket-taking abilities and poses a potent threat to India. The raw pace that he extracts and his nippy bowling action adds a different dimension to Shah’s bowling repertoire. He can make batsmen play at deliveries which seem playable but can sharply come back in at the last moment.
India got a taste of his medicine at the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cups. Shah troubled Indian batsmen with hurried up pace and steep bounce that makes it harder to play pull shots effectively. Even batsmen who attempt to play pull shots stand chance of getting caught out at fine leg or mid wicket after getting a top-edge.
The likes of Rohit, Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant have been at the receiving end of his bowling tricks and therefore India will have to keep an eye on this young lad. Shah has been sparkling in his short ODI career so far bagging 24 wickets in nine matches with a best of 5/33 with an economy of 4.59 and an average of 14.92.
If India have to win the Asia Cup and establish their supremacy over Pakistan, then dealing with the triple pace threat from the arch-rivals will be key. The Asia Cup battles will also throw some clues as to how the ‘Battle of Ahmedabad’ on October 14th at the World Cup will pan out.
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