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Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has admitted that India hold a “slight edge” going into their Champions Trophy match against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Sunday.
India have emerged victorious in their last three meetings with their arch-rivals, which came at the 2015 World Cup, 2016 Asia Cup and last year’s World Twenty20.
In each of those matches, India captain Virat Kohli has been the difference as he scored 107, 49 and 55 not out respectively.
“The high octane Indo-Pak Champions Trophy 2017 clash is now upon us, and like most cricket fans around the world, I can’t wait for Sunday’stie at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium,” Afridi wrote in his column for the official International Cricket Council (ICC) website. “Everyone knows what kind of attention a match between the two teams always gets, especially in an ICC tournament. It is one of those matches in which every move will be dissected and each performance from either side will discussed for years to come.
“As a passionate Pakistan supporter, it’s natural that I would want my team to finish on the winning side against any team, and especially against India. However, recent history and the depth of the India squad gives it a slight edge heading into the game.
“Led by Kohli, the Indians possess a formidable batting line-up that can flay any bowling attack on its day. Kohli’s credentials as a top-order batsman are known to all and he has played some memorable innings in the ODI format.
“I have vivid memories of his sublime century against us in the 2012 Asia Cup, while he was at his absolute best in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 clash at Adelaide, laying the foundation of an Indian win with a masterful hundred.”
Afridi, who recently retired from international cricket, added that he is highly impressed with India’s squad as they are stocked with talent in all departments.
“While batting is India’s traditional strength, it is also fielding a balanced bowling attack that includes some skillful bowlers led by the wily Ravichandran Ashwin,” he wrote. “The off-spinner has truly come of age and has become a pivotal part of India’s recent successes across the three formats. Ashwin has great control and bowls an impeccable line and length which troubles the best in the business.
“The spinners will be complimented by what I feel is a more than capable seam bowling line-up led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Shami is the quickest of the pace attack and can make the ball bounce awkwardly while Bhuvneshwar can make the ball swing. He is also a shrewd operator who makes life tough for batters in the slog overs as we saw in the recently concluded Indian Premier League.”
The 37-year-old also expressed his excitement towards the fact that all-rounder Yuvraj Singh had been included in India’s squad. Yuvraj made his comeback into India’s limited overs squads in January and Afridi is hoping to see the 35-year-old excel at the Champions Trophy.
“I am really pleased to see my old friend Yuvraj return to the international fold with renewed hunger and passion for the game,” he wrote. “I wish him the very best and hope to see him play in his usual belligerent way. Yuvi is a treat to watch when in full flow and some of his shots leave you awestruck. I do hope though that he reserves his best for the games following the opener against Pakistan!
“To succeed against India, Pakistan’s bowlers would need to keep chipping away with wickets at regular intervals – you can’t afford to sit back since the likes of Yuvraj and Dhoni are in the middle-order and the presence of the duo gives India real batting depth.”
In addition to Yuvraj, Afridi pointed out that pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah could pose a serious threat.
“I am hugely impressed by the skillset and temperament of young Jasprit Bumrah,” he added. “He bowls what I call the ‘Pakistani Yorker’ almost at will. He reminds us of our pacers of yore who had mastered the skill of bowling the perfect yorker, especially during the 90s.
“Bumrah has a wise head on his young shoulders and looks unfazed even when the batsmen are plundering runs. I think this year’s IPL has raised his stature considerably and Pakistan’s batsmen as well as all opposing teams need to make concrete plans of countering his threat in the ICC Champions Trophy.”
Signing off in his column, Afridi wrote: “I’m hoping we all get to see another memorable contest that befits the India-Pakistan rivalry. Let the best team take the honours, and more importantly, let it be an entertaining and memorable battle that provides rich entertainment to billions around the world.”