It's time for Round 2.
For all the hype around it, Round 1 of India vs Pakistan was an immaterial one as far as the Asia Cup was concerned. The match too ended up not living up to its hype, India running away with the game with an all-round performance. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kedhar Jadhav ran through the Pakistan line-up and bowled them out for 162, a total that was chased down with ease by the Indian top order.
In fact, the one-sided nature of the contests has been the theme for many of the recent India-Pakistan matches. Each and every game has been preceded with hype and talks about on-field war, but the actual games have ended up falling flat. The Champions Trophy final was won easily by Pakistan. India won with similar ease when the two sides met in the group stage of that tournament. Ditto in the two T20Is in 2016 - the World T20 and Asia Cup - and in the World Cup 2015 game in Adelaide.
The last proper India-Pakistan thriller was in the 2014 Asia Cup when Shahid Afridi slammed R Ashwin for two sixes in the last over to seal a one-wicket win.
Round 2 could perhaps break the trend. While the talks around the previous meeting was all hype, the one around the second game is more focused on the actual game. That's because the stakes are slightly higher, and both teams find themselves in good positions. India have won all their three games so far, including their first Super Four game against Bangladesh. Pakistan have had a tougher route - they slipped against India in the group stage and then survived a scare against Afghanistan on Friday.
In many ways, it's a typical Pakistan progression. Never a side known to win consistently, Pakistan have huffed and puffed but are still a major threat. Slowly but steadily, they are putting together the pieces; Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik scored half-centuries against a potent Afghanistan attack in a stiff chase.
Azam and Malik got starts even against India, before their dismissals turned the game around. They will once again be key on Sunday's clash for they'll have to counter three spinners, with Ravindra Jadeja joining Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Or potentially four, if Jadhav chips in with his wily off-breaks.
Pakistan will want Fakhar Zaman and Sarfraz Ahmed to do better. Zaman has scores of 24, 0 and 0 in the tournament, while Sarfraz has made 14 runs in two games. Zaman in particular is key, for he came into the tournament with terrific form and can change the course of the game with his aggressive batting. India already know that - they only have to rewind to the Champions Trophy 2017.
India will take confidence from the way they kept Zaman under check in the first match. Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah were terrific with the new ball - bowling back of length and straight, not giving the opener any room to free his arms. Frustration then led to Zaman, and Imam, throwing away their wickets. The platform was destroyed, and the rest only followed. India will be looking to follow the same template, and they also have the additional spin option in Jadeja who resumed his ODI career after more than a year's break with a four-wicket haul against Bangladesh.
"Playing for India is a big pride for us, whether it's India - Pakistan or against any other team," he said, looking ahead to the next game after the Bangladesh ODI.
"A lot of people watch India-Pakistan and get excited. It'll be a good match. We're doing well and they have a good team too. So it should be an interesting game."
India's batsmen have been in good form, but their bowlers' success in the last two matches meant they haven't been able to test one key area - their middle-order batting - yet. The middle-order only posted 48 runs in the last 10 overs against Hong Kong, but with India winning by eight and seven wickets respectively in the next two games, the middle order hasn't come into play.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are among the runs, while Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik have made decent contributions. The key for Pakistan will be to get past these four quickly, as the rest haven't been exposed much yet. India perhaps won't mind that, for such a situation will help them test the Dhoni and Jadhavs and Jadejas with the bigger picture in mind.
Pakistan will hope to have Shadab Khan fit in time. His replacement against Afghanistan, left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz bagged three wickets while Mohammad Amir's replacement Shaheen Afridi too impressed with a couple of wickets. He could have had more if not for some sloppy catching.
But Pakistan will know that however well they bowl, they'll have to bat better to give their bowlers a chance. If they can do that, and bring all departments firing in unison, we could witness the thrilling India-Pakistan clash that everyone is yearning for. The winner of Sunday's game will almost surely make it to the final. The loser could make their way too, potentially setting up Round 3.
India: Rohit Sharma(capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Deepak Chahar, Siddarth Kaul, K Khaleel Ahmed.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shan Masood, Sarfraz Ahmed(capt), Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir.
Spin Holds Key as Rampant India Hold Edge Over Uncertain Pakistan in Dubai
It's time for Round 2.