The 12th edition of the ACC Asia Cup kicks off this Tuesday, i.e. the 25th of February, with the defending champions Pakistan taking on Sri Lanka at Fatullah, Bangladesh. Asia Cup 2014 would furnish the participating sides with a raw preview of the challenges that await them down under in the World Cup 2015. Considering the pitch conditions and the squads, this could possibly be one of the most open tournaments with all participating teams except Afghanistan standing a fair chance in securing the title.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka start as favorites with the former having a teeny-weeny edge. Indian side can never be discounted on sub continental conditions despite not having won a single ODI in their last seven (played overseas). Bangladesh was the runners up team last time around in their home conditions – an achievement they would pride themselves in and draw inspiration from. Afghanistan, the minnows, would look to gather much-needed exposure before the World Cup scheduled to be held next year. All in all, intriguing battles are all set to be unleashed for a couple of weeks in the lands, so dearly belonging to “Sonar Bangla.”
Pakistani cricket team is known for its mercurial and unpredictable nature. However if its recent series triumph against the Lankans is anything to go by, the defending champions present themselves as massive contenders for the Asia Cup. Pakistan has always had the luxury of an ace bowling pack. The seasoned campaigner, Umar Gul will spearhead the quick bowling troika, well assisted by Junaid Khan and Bilawal Bhatti. Bench strength includes a couple of promising young quickies in Mohammad Talha and Anwar Ali. Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez are able enough to spin their side to victory.
Notwithstanding, Pakistan’s batting perennially leaves a lot to be desired of. Talk of Pakistani batting and there are only two names that come to your mind – Misbah and Hafeez. If at all Pakistan plan to seal the deal in this tournament, their batting has to fire in unison. The likes of Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, and Sohaib Maqsood have to bat responsibly enough.
Sqaud:- Misbah-ul-Haq(c), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur rehman, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti, Mohammad Talha
Team India goes into the Asia Cup as a tough contender in spite of having stomached a string of defeats abroad. That said, all those dreary outcomes went on to transpire in the alien lands of South Africa and New Zealand.
Come 26th of this month when they lock horns with the hosts Bangladesh, an altogether different unit will be put on display. The mindset in the camp would change, so would their confidence levels. It takes no rocket-science to discover how Indians relish playing within the Asian boundaries.
Their batting ascertains undiluted class. The stage is set for the stroke-makers to hark back into their genuine selves. Flat decks with gentle bounce would cater them well. The absence of an injured MS Dhoni will hurt the team for sure. All the same, it is an opportunity in disguise for selectors to gauge the endurance of Virat Kohli the skipper. Furthermore, Stuart Binny and/or Ambati Rayudu will be endowed with a golden chance to show-off their match-winning skills.
Ravichandran Ashwin has looked out-of-sorts for a while now. The dusty pitches in Bangladesh will act as an ideal platform for him to get into his own. Amit Mishra stands an outside chance given Ashwin doesn’t find his mojo back. Meanwhile, the ‘Rockstar’ Ravindra Jadeja will be keen on prolonging his purple-patch both with the bat and the ball.
Virat Kohli will receive the biggest botheration from the fast-bowling department. Having utilized 20 pacers in the last four years, India still doesn’t know who their strike bowlers would be for the World Cup 2015. Mohammaed Shami has been the lone ranger for the last year or so. The other lead bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar seems to have lost his charm, that is, swing. The helpless tracks in Bangladesh would force him to bowl fuller, nevertheless. There will be a toss up between Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey for the third pacer’s spot.
Squad:- Virat Kohli(c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik(wk), Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohamnmed Shami, Varun Aaron, Amit Mishra, Ishwar Pandey.
Sri Lanka, yet again, field an extremely balanced squad. They have all the bases covered, at least, on paper. However, their past outings in the finals of big tournaments will continue to haunt them. They’ll be very eager to change this ignominious record of theirs in this Asia Cup.
Sri Lankans whitewashed the hosts Bangladesh in the ODI series (by 3-0) just a couple of days ago. This would have given them the ideal exposure and confidence ahead of the all-important tourney. The experienced trio of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene will be the playmakers for the Lankans, with the bat, in this tournament. Kusal Perera, the similitude of legendary Sanath Jayasuriya, was in good touch in the above mentioned ODI series – particularly scoring a match-winning ton in the third and final game of the series. However, the middle order (consisting of Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and the skipper, Angelo Mathews) appears a bit fragile and short on experience.
The bowling department, conversely, is extremely experienced. That said, it doesn’t seem lethal enough. Lasith Malinga, in the ODI series against Pakistan was quite expensive and innocuous. Nuwan Kulasekara, too, hasn’t been penetrating enough since his return. The young Suranga Lakmal has been the lone positive in this department. In Rangana herath, Sachitra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis, Lankans boast of a highly skilled spin flack. The wicket-taking ability of this bowling attack will be a concern since they could manage just 26 scalps in the 5-match ODI series versus Pakistan.
Sri Lanka is blessed with a wealth of all-rounders in the skipper himself, Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara – all of whom capable of finishing a match.
Squad:- Angelo Mathews(c), Dinesh Chandimal, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumara Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Ashan Priyaranjanm, Thisara Perera, Lasith malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Sachitra Senanayake, Ajantha mendis, Chaturanga De Silva
The hosts were the runners-up in the last edition of this tournament. However, their recent form has been terrible having lost the Test, t20 and ODI series against the Lankans.
To make matters worse, Tamim Iqbal has been ruled out of the Asia Cup on account of a neck strain. All-rounder Mahmudullah has been left out following poor form in recent matches. This weakens their batting hugely. Hence, Bangladeshi batting would more or less revolve around skipper, Mushfiqur Rahim and opener, Imrul Kayes.
Shakib al Hassan, the hotshot with both bat and ball, would miss out Bangladesh’s opening game of this tournament against India as part of the three-match suspension awarded by BCB. In the first ODI of the three-match series against Sri Lanka, he was caught making inappropriate gestures on live TV.
Sohag Gazi will be an youngster to look out for in this tournament. He holds the distinction of hitting a Test hundred and notching up a hat trick in the very same game. The team would expect a few match-winning all-round efforts from him in this tournament.
The experienced quick-bowling duo of Mashrafe Mortaza and Rubel Hussain would look to be more consistent than ever before.
Squad:- Mushfiqur Rahim(c), Anamul Hoque Bijoy, Imrul Kayes, Shamsur Rehman, Naeem Islam, Muminul Hoque, Nasir Hussain, Arafat Sunny, Ziaur Rehman, Abdur Razzak, Sohag Gazi, Mashrafe Mortaza, Rubel Hussain, Al Amin Hossain, Shakib al Hassan
Afghanistan have been surging ahead in international cricket by leaps and bounds. Through Asia Cup, the Afghans would look to gather the much-needed experience before the World Cup scheduled to be held next year. Their focus really will be on giving the test-playing nations, a run for their money.
Afghanistan has a fairly experienced side. Mohammad Shehzad, known for his aggressive stroke play, will look to earn the early advantage for his side, at the top of the order. Mohammad Nabi and Nawroz Mangal will have to assume bulk of the run-scoring. In the bowling department, Shapoor Zadran will have to lead the way. He would draw confidence from his good showing in the previous World T20 wherein he troubled quite a few top-order bats. Samiullah Shenwari will head their spin-bowling department.
Squad:- Mohammad Nabi(c), Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Shehzad, Nawroz Mangal, Rahmat Shah, Shapoor Zadran, Asghar Stanikzai, Fazal Niazai, Hamza Hotak, Mirwais Ashraf, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Samiullah Shenwari.