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India managed to escape a scare last night against a spirited Hong Kong which otherwise would have gone down to be the biggest upset in cricket history. The match which was supposed to be a warm-up game before the big match against Pakistan turned out to be an eye-opener for India. However, India managed to hold their nerves and squeezed in with a 26-run victory to sail through to the super 4s of Asia Cup.
It can be a morale booster for Pakistan who had defeated Hong Kong in their opening game with a clinical performance unlike their arch-rivals India but it will all be forgotten once the two teams take field against each other. With both teams already through to the Super 4, this match result will help the winning team take the bragging rights into the further stage of the tournament. While both India and Pakistan have a very strong and balanced squad, Pakistan's acquaintance with the pitch and conditions will give them an added advantage. India's vulnerable middle-order will be tested against a high-quality bowling attack of Pakistan in the absence of their regular skipper, Virat Kohli.
India did a rest a few players before the game against Pakistan and they'll make a comeback for the much important encounter. Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya are sure to come back in the XI but it will be interesting to see on whose expense. Bumrah should replace Shardul Thakur, who had a forgetful outing against Hong Kong but Khaleel Ahmed was highly impressive and delivered a match-winning bowling performance against Hong Kong and dropping him can be a tough call to make. KL Rahul might also be drafted in the XI and this might come on the expense of Dinesh Karthik or Ambati Rayudu. Given that Rayudu scored a fluent half-century, the chances of Karthik missing out seems more likely if the management is keen on bringing in Rahul.
The top order had a good outing against Hong Kong and India seemed well on course of a 300+ total. But they couldn't finish things well and managed to muster just 48 runs in the last 10 overs. The fast bowling attack looked off-colour with their strike bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar failing to pick any wickets and keep the run flow in check. But we all know what he is capable of and the team will back him for the match against Pakistan. It was once again the spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav who brought India back in the game. Both the spinners bowled with discipline in the middle and even when they failed to pick up early wickets, they made sure that the run rate was in check and the asking rate kept soaring.
Pakistan has a much better batting line-up than Hong Kong and the Indian bowlers will have to be at their best to stop them from getting a big score. The likes of Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam have been in fine form and India would want to get rid of their top order early in the game. Even though the match is a dead rubber with its results bearing no importance in the context of the tournament, this still is going be the most exciting match of the Asia Cup so far.
Catch all the action from the 5th match of the Unimoni Asia Cup between India and Pakistan at Dubai Internation Stadium in Dubai, Wednesday, 19th September, 5:00 PM IST.