With the World T20 upon us in the now appropriated home of T20 cricket, the Asia Cup could serve as a valuable dress rehearsal. And much like the World T20, this is more open a tournament than has ever been. Part of it, of course, is due to the fact that you only need to show off your skills for a little while, but a greater part is because of a deeper understanding of this precocious child. It is a form made for the times we live in and as a more fearless generation enters the game, T20 becomes a more dramatic, if fleeting, exhibition of skills.
The Asia Cup has traditionally been a two- or three-horse race, but recent home results put Bangladesh firmly amongst the contenders. For years, Bangladesh played one-dimensional cricket, putting a battery of slow bowlers out on spongy, somnolent pitches. It wasn’t attractive and it didn’t benefit anyone. Now, the Sher-e-Bangla stadium has a decent covering of grass on it, Bangladesh have pretty decent seamers and it wouldn’t be entirely inconceivable that they only went in with one front line spinner in their best player Shakib Al Hasan.
The grass isn’t the only feature of the surface here. In the last qualifying game in Mirpur, dew made an appearance, and hopefully it won’t be a regular feature because it is the bane of night cricket in our part of the world. And a win-the-toss-win-the-game scenario benefits nobody. I am also concerned with the boundaries which are decently sized square of the wicket but rather flattened straight. One of the more forgettable aspects of the last Asia Cup was that the seniors played with embarrassingly small boundaries while the juniors in Dubai played on much bigger grounds. There has to be a move to push the boundaries back, especially since there is a lot of space.
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It will also give Indian supporters a closer look at Pakistan, a team they haven’t seen a lot of. Like all recent Pakistan teams, this is a top bowling side but is slightly fragile at the top of the order where experience has been recalled in search of steel. Mohd Hafeez and Shoaib Malik will strengthen a batting side that tended to play as if it was their last day on the planet. Umar Akmal, in the form of his life, can still play like that but if he can be forced to stay in, he can be their biggest match winner.
It helps that all the spinners bat and that the expectation around Shahid Afridi’s has at last waned allowing contributions from him to be seen as the cherry on top rather than the cake itself. If there is grass, Wahab Riaz, Mohd Amir and Mohd Irfan can be a handful and if there is spin at hand, Afridi, Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik come into play. Pakistan’s biggest advantage is that you can sparkle briefly in T20 cricket and their million-dollar approach, often a drawback in 50 overs cricket, can work here.
Sri Lanka have brought all the veterans back and it will be interesting to see if Malinga, Kulasekara and Herath can all play together in what is such an athletic game. Once India settled in at Ranchi and Visakhapatnam, Sri Lanka looked disappointing and that is why the return of Angelo Mathews, their best player by a distance, is critical. If he fires, they can be a force, otherwise they give the impression of being the weakest of the sides here.
India come with their DNA too. Powerful, skilful batsmen who can take games away but are frequently dependent on what the bowlers do with the runs they score. It is an old story. If the ball grips a bit, India become powerful, even dominant, and that is why the size of the boundaries and the possibility of dew could hurt India the most. India’s seamers have been encouraging and it will be a good time to give Bhuvaneshwar Kumar some confidence because he has wandered away a bit. In any case, India need to come to terms with the absence of Mohammad Shami and therefore, Bhuvaneshwar should play whenever possible.
It is critical too that Yuvraj Singh gets lots of time in the middle because he instils fear in the opposition too. And I would like to see Pavan Negi on the field before the World T20 begins. Dhoni likes to play with a settled side but he also needs performing players on the bench, not rusty ones, when the bigger tournament begins.