Normally, India would face the daunting task of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Asia Cup but as things stand, India are undoubtedly the favourites to lift the title come March 6. Both Sri Lanka and Pakistan face the issue of an imbalanced squad that could be their undoing at the tournament.
With series win over Australia in Australia and then at home over Sri Lanka, India couldn’t have hit the ground running at a better moment. But the target for India would ideally not be the Asia Cup but the World T20 that follows soon after on home pitches.
With the Asia Cup being played in T20 format this time around, it also gives a good chance for India to continue their momentum and not have to worry about differing conditions either.
Ghosts of the past
The last time India were in Bangladesh, MS Dhoni was answering questions after a disappointing ODI loss, deflecting queries of him stepping down as captain and the team being in turmoil. Fast forward to February 2016 and all is rosy in the world. Dhoni is still the captain, India are on a two series winning streak and the ‘turmoil’ is gone.
But one can’t take Bangladesh lightly at home as they’ve proven by defeating the likes of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Pakistan in the past year. But that was in ODIs and this is T20s which makes it a totally different ball-game.
No tinkering with the squad
As the saying goes, “Don’t fix what’s not broken” and keeping that in mind, the five-time champions have opted not to mess with a well balanced side. While all three of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a topsy-turvy squad structure, India doesn’t have that problem.
If there are explosive batsmen like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan then there are calm players like Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane too.
At the top of the heap, there are arguably no better attackers than Rohit, Dhawan and Virat Kohli. On their day, the trio can take apart any bowling line-up and playing on the sub-continent will give them a booster. Vice-captain Kohli will also feel well rested having skipped the three T20Is against Sri Lanka.
For some time, India have lacked a quality all-rounder and this time the Men in Blue will have the luxury of six of them in their midst. Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Pawan Negi, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin are good options but who all make the cut in the XI remains to be seen.
Despite the stability he provides, Rahane may have to sit out of the squad with numerous batting options already available. Dhoni stated earlier that Rahane is better as an opener in limited overs cricket than as a middle order player.
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Rise of Bhumrah
As Mohammed Shami’s injury count piled up, Jasprit Bhumrah has strengthen his spot in the pace bowling department. One might say Shami’s injury has allowed lady luck to smile down on Bhuvneshwar Kumar but it has helped Bhumrah more.
Lauded as the find of the Australia T20 series by Dhoni, 22-year-old Bhumrah has not been deterred by the occasion or the opposition. He’s hit the spot during the Australia series and provides a value addition in yorkers – an element that India’s pacers lacked.
Working with Ashish Nehra, the duo have swung the ball beautifully to rattle the opposition and pick up wickets early and at death.
New boy Negi
The biggest shock in the squad however is the inclusion of 23-year-old Delhi spinner Pawan Negi. With no international game in his kitty and only three First-class games, the left-arm spinner will expectedly be a surprise element from Dhoni. Even though he’s been exposed to the grand stage through IPL, one would expect him to prove his Rs. 8.5 crore IPL contract worth it.
No final flourish
One concern for the Indian management would be the poor conversion at late stage of an innings. After a good start and a steady rise in the middle of the innings, there have been numerous instances of India falling apart at the end. This was evident during the ODIs against Australia where India should have won at least one more game than they did.
Skipper Dhoni was a crucial piece of the puzzle in finishing off games and setting large totals at the end but he’s yet to come good.
India’s fixtures at Asia Cup:
Vs Bangladesh on 24 February
Vs Pakistan on 27 February
Vs Sri Lanka on 1 March
Vs UAE on 3 March