On Tuesday, Hong Kong will play India but before that the two teams will rub shoulders at the International Cricket Council Academy ground when they practice together. Rohit Sharma is the friendly sort and if Hong Kong’s players want to have a word he will gladly engage and perhaps even ask a question or two about India’s Wednesday opponents.
The Pakistan-Hong Kong match was understandably one-sided - Hong Kong have just 800 active cricketers, about how many you see on a single Mumbai maidan on any given morning - and Pakistan were just too strong for them. Hong Kong don’t even have permanent One-Day International status, although the two matches they play in this tournament will be officially recognised.
Pakistan have built on their immense strength steadily but surely under Mickey Arthur, a no-nonsense coach who has laid down minimum requirements for fitness and fielding that every player has to adhere to. While it is tempting to call Pakistan mercurial, something they traditionally have been, this team is a touch different.
The bowling remains the strong suit and it will be when the attack is led by a bowler of the class of Mohammad Amir. But he is not alone. Usman Khan is yet another promising left-arm quick, Faheem Ashram has made a name for himself as a hard hitter having begun as a right-arm medium pacer and Hasan Ali has enough variations to be successful in a variety of conditions.
There’s enough depth in batting and a blend of experience and youth. Imam-ul-Haq has made his more famous uncle proud, scoring consistently since he was elevated to international cricket. Babar Azam, who has shades of Mohammad Azharuddin to him, is hungry to play long innings, Fakhar Zaman has already knifed India in the past and Shoaib Malik has been around seemingly forever. Add to this Sarfraz Khan, a top-shelf wicketkeeper and capable batsman, and you have all the ingredients needed to be successful in 50-over cricket.
While it would be unfair to read too much into Pakistan based on one match against Hong Kong, a team that was always going to struggle to be competitive against the big guns, what was obvious was a sense of calm and professionalism not always associated with Pakistan teams. The fielding was tidy, there was no shortage of energy and fortunately for Pakistan they are more than used to playing in the 43-degree heat of the United Arab Emirates.
All teams like to say that they go into a tournament looking at each match as a separate event and that they don’t like to think too far ahead but that hardly applies to India-Pakistan matches. The buzz has been around that game from the time the teams landed in Dubai and it has intensified after Pakistan’s first match.
When asked about his three-wicket rampage in a single over against Hong Kong, Usman could barely contain his excitement. “Your career can change if you are a Pakistani and perform against India. I got three wickets today,” said Usman, “And, inshallah I will pick up five wickets against India.”
The verbal volleys, even if they are gentle ones, have already begun. Now all that remains is to get a look at India against Hong Kong, in main to see how they handle the physically demanding conditions, before suiting up for the main event.
First Published: September 17, 2018, 1:23 PM IST