Big boost for Team India ahead of Pakistan clash, Rahul Dravid tests negative

India head coach Rahul Dravid has tested negative for Covid and is set to join the team on Sunday ahead of his side’s opening match in Asia Cup 2022 against Pakistan at the Dubai International Stadium on August 28. Earlier VVS Laxman was named interim head coach in Rahul’s absence. Rahul had tested positive on August 21, just ahead of India’s departure for the mega event. He had to remain in home isolation in Bengaluru. According to a report by Indian Express, Dravid was tested twice and returned negative in both the RT-PCR tests. He is all set to join Team India ahead of the Sunday clash.

Both India and Pakistan will be entering Sunday’s match without their pace spearheads — Jasprit Bumrah and Shaheen Shah Afridi. While Bumrah is nursing a back injury, Afridi is missing due to a right knee ligament injury.

Afridi will be a huge miss for Pakistan as he picked 3-31 in his four overs and became ‘Player of the Match’ in a 10-wicket victory when these two teams last met in the Men’s T20 World Cup in 2021 at the venue which is now all geared up to host Sunday’s Asia Cup Group A match.

In Bumrah’s absence, Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan have been given opportunities to strengthen their respective cases for spots in the Men’s T20 World Cup squad. In absence of Afridi and Mohammad Wasim Jr., Hasan Ali, who was not in the original Asia Cup squad due to dip in form, has been given a chance to show he’s still got in him to get that ticket to the World Cup apart from Haris Rauf, Shahnawaz Dahani, Mohammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah.

Sunday’s match also marks talismanic India batter Virat Kohli’s 100th T20I appearance, and his first international match since playing in the third ODI against England on July 17. It will also make Kohli only the second player (after New Zealand’s Ross Taylor) to clock 100 appearances in all three formats of international cricket.

Kohli, the former India captain, has not scored a century in international cricket since November 2019, and has played only four T20I matches for India this year. Kohli’s return to cricket after a break of a month and a half adds extra bling to the clash between the arch-rivals.

With 50 days left for the Men’s T20 World Cup to happen in Australia, India will be keen to see how Kohli and KL Rahul fit in the ultra-attacking approach embraced by the side, which has been very encouraging and a refreshing change from last year’s timid batting style.

They also need to decide between having Rishabh Pant’s left-handedness or Dinesh Karthik’s finishing exploits in the eleven.

For Pakistan, apart from not much experience and variety in their pace bowling line-up, it should be interesting to see how their batting operates. Of late, their top-three of captain Babar Azam, wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman do the bulk of the scoring.

With no Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez in the middle order to do the finishing job, a lot depends on Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed and young Haider Ali to step up in a scenario to apply the required finishing touches.

If the cricketing gods are in a mood, then two more India-Pakistan clashes could happen in the Asia Cup, including the final. But for now, Sunday’s match is enough to increase the blockbuster quotient, when India and Pakistan take the field, irrespective of whether heat is at its scorching best or not.

Full Squads

India: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan.

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Hasan Ali (subject to approval from ETC), Naseem Shah , Mohammad Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir.