It’s country vs country, of course, but also player vs player, the mini battles that often make the games what they are. Here’s our pick of four that might end up being the most engrossing at the Asia Cup.
The one everybody’s waiting for – Babar vs Rashid
Babar Azam playing fast bowling is a thing of beauty. He is never ever rushed. It’s as though having things hurled at him at 90mph is his idea of a good time. So naturally, opposition teams will try to take that away from him. But while denying the No. 1 batter in T20Is pace on the ball may appear a sound plan, it doesn’t always produce results. Unless your name is Khan. Rashid Khan. The Afghanistan legspinner has dismissed the Pakistan captain more often (five times) than anybody else in the shortest format, and conceded just 59 runs off 48 balls. In fact, every single time they have met in a T20 match, Rashid has taken Babar out, and if they face off in the Asia Cup , it will be only their second meeting in T20Is.
The one that’s just beginning – Kohli vs Hasaranga
It’s always eventful when Virat Kohli goes up against a bowler who takes the ball away from him. At the Asia Cup, he will come up against another exponent of this art. Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga. Okay, we’re cheating a bit here, picking a legspinner, but come on. They’re rivals turned friends turned rivals again. It’s just too juicy. Kohli and Hasaranga were part of the same dressing room at Royal Challengers Bangalore, experiencing the high of an improbable journey into the playoffs together. In fact, Hasaranga was Royal Challengers’ top wicket-taker this season. Now they are back to plotting each other’s downfall. And it could go either way. Hasaranga is exceptional against right-handers – they make up 86 of his 116 T20 wickets – but Kohli averages 62 against legspin. Hasaranga’s bowled just six balls at Kohli in T20 cricket – for four runs and no wicket – so this battle is only just beginning.
The one not many know about – Rajapaksa vs Shadab
When he is not busy retiring and un-retiring from cricket, Bhanuka Rajapaksa is a pretty good wristspin hitter. And that’s bad news for Shadab Khan. These two have faced each other three times in T20 cricket for a total of 45 runs in 29 balls and only one dismissal. Sri Lanka don’t play Pakistan in the group stages but if they do meet in the later stages, this middle-overs bout could prove crucial. Of course Pakistan do have the option of going an entirely different way to handle Rajapaksa. The left-hander is a lot more suspect against offspin, which accounts for 16 of his 28 dismissals to slow bowlers.
The one that’s been on hold – Mushfiqur vs Hardik
The world has seen a lot over the last six years. A virus. A vaccine. New star systems. Something called the Griddy. But you know what’s not happened in 2344 days? Mushfiqur Rahim playing a T20 against Hardik Pandya. March 23, 2016. Bangladesh were on the cusp of knocking India out of their own T20 World Cup. An equation that once read 11 runs off six balls turned into two off three and it was all because of Mushfiqur. He punched the air and screamed into the night, emotion pouring out of him. But Mushfiqur’s celebration turned out to be premature. Hardik was bowling the final over of a T20 defence for the very first time back then. He’s become a much better bowler now(ww).