Pandya, Umesh key for India against Pakistan in Asia Cup: Mitchell Johnson
Hardik Pandya and Umesh Yadav will trouble Pakistan, feels Mitchell Johnson (Getty Images)

Defending their Asia Cup title, India will have plenty to look forward to from allrounder Hardik Pandya and fast bowler Umesh Yadav during their clash against Pakistan, feels former Australia fast bowler Mitchell Johnson. The Asia Cup will be held in the UAE, from September 15 to 28. India won the Asia Cup in 2016 which was contested in T20 format.

India and Pakistan are placed in Group A and the arch-rivals will face each other on September 19, for the first time since the Champions Trophy final last year. Johnson, who recently announced his retirement from all forms of cricket, reckoned Pandya’s current form with the ball in England will be a beneficial factor for India in the Emirates. The India allrounder recently picked up his maiden five-wicket haul during the third Test against England at Trent Bridge in a performance that became the turning point of the match.

“Against Pakistan, India’s age-old cricketing rival and neighbour, and keeping UAE’s pitch conditions in mind, I think seamers like Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya would work in India’s favour,” Johnson, told PTI.

“Pandya is currently doing well in the United Kingdom, where he is utilising the conditions well. His ability to extract pace from pitches and smartly bowling at length when required will help knock out the tricky Pakistani batting line-up.”

Unlike Pandya, Johnson’s other hope, Umesh, was dropped following the first Test at Edgbaston but took eight wickets in the five-ODI series against England in July. Pace-wise, Umesh is India’s best, and the best fielder among India’s current stock of fast bowlers. When the conditions are warm – case in point, UAE – Umesh becomes handy with the reverse coming into play. He becomes more effective with the Kookaburra ball as compared to the Duke ball.

“I am actually excited to see the way Umesh Yadav will bowl in the Asia Cup,” said Johnson. “Yadav’s biggest asset lies in the ability to choke an opposition at crunch times along with knocking opponents out with variations/reverse swing during his spells.

“Yadav, along with Pandya and (Jasprit) Bumrah, can perfectly set up the situation for the spinners who would be carrying the mantle of negotiating matches through the middle overs.”

That said, India would be aware of Pakistan’s familiarity of conditions in the Middle-East. Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s captain acknowledged that India will not be easy to get away with but stressed on the importance of his side’s experience of playing in the UAE, a sentiment Johnson echoed. He added that this year’s tournament might well be remembered for the performances put in by fast bowlers.

“Pakistan will have an upper hand and will enjoy playing in UAE due to its prior experience of playing in the PSL (Pakistan Super League) and knowing the weather/pitch conditions inside out,” Johnson said.

“The pitches in UAE have traditionally produced belters, but with the bowling line-up all the teams possess currently we might remember this year’s tournament as the bowlers’ tournament.”