Angikaar C | 7:39am gmt 10 Mar 2012
As a weary Sri Lankan and an even wearier Indian team make their way to sweaty Bangladesh after a soul-sapping Australian sojourn, they would be forgiven for thinking that they have it worse than any other sports team in the world. If India have been thrashed physically and mentally throughout their three month Australian tour, Sri Lanka will point to the fact that they have been playing without pay since the World Cup. And now they lock horns again in the Asia Cup, alongwith Pakistan and Bangladesh, just three days after the CB Series final where a brave Sri Lanka went down to Australia.
The Asia Cup in its 12th edition is a funny old tournament at its best and will be probably be paid little attention to, by the rest of the cricket world. However, it gives cricket lovers a chance to see India and Pakistan clash, a rivalry enjoyed by every subcontinental cricket fan. India have been the most successful team in the tournament, winning it five times, including the last time it was played in 2010.
So, how important is the tournament to each of the participants?
- Dhoni and Co will heave a sigh of relief, tinged with tiredness. From the bounce and the hardness of Australia, they will finally be in the much more familiar slow, spinny environs of the subcontinent. Obviously, they would have loved to play in India, but Bangladesh is familiar enough. India will take the Asia Cup seriously, as it gives them the opportunity to bounce back immediately after their failure Down Under. A comprehensive sweep of the tournament would quieten all the noise about Dhoni?s inabilities as a captain, his rotation policies and his rifts with Sehwag/Gambhir. However, any slip-up and the reaction will be unforgivable. The 15th March clash with Pakistan will be vital; after all, in the subcontinent, "One does not simply lose against Pakistan..."
There have been a few shake-ups to the squad, Sehwag and Zaheer have been left out (supposedly Sehwag had asked for rest himself!), and it will be interesting to see their replacements. Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda, both from Bengal, are considered fine, promising cricketers and should look to prove themselves in conditions much more similar to home.
- The heady euphoria after the 3-0 whitewash over England is in danger of evaporating after the reverse whitewash in the ODI series. Misbah is now considered Pakistan's best Test captain, but his captaincy is being questioned in the limited overs format. Like Dhoni, this will be another chance for Misbah to prove his credentials. However, Pakistan will have their task cut out against India and Sri Lanka, and will have to put in that extra yard. Their bowling as always is strong, in the capable hands of Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. Wahab Riaz and Aizaz Cheema are no less capable, if less experienced. Do not expect Ajmal and Rehamn to weave the same magic all over again this time, all the three other teams can plan spin much better than the English.
Pakistan have dropped Adnan Akmal and brought in Sarfraz Ahmad as the specialist keeper, a move that will take some load off Umar Akmal and will hopefully inspire this talented cricketer to play without inhibitions.
- Sri Lanka journey to Bangladesh after coming close to beating the Aussies in their own den and taking the CB series home. On current form, they are probably the favourites to win the Asia Cup; however, they will have to want to guard against player burnout. Jayawardene's captaincy in Australia has inspired one and one all, and there is a distinct consistency in his team, something missing from all the other teams. Dilshan, Jayawardane and Sangakarra are all in pretty good nick, and their new find, Dinesh Chandimal has already got cricket watchers declaring that he is among the most composed young batsman in world cricket. Lasith Malinga had just one bad day in the CB series where he got thrashed around the park by the new Indian vice-captain Virat Kohli, but, make no mistake, he still is among the finest death bowlers in the world.
In a move which must be lauded, Sri Lanka have decided to rest Herath, Welegedara and Prasad in preparation for their series against England, which starts immediately after the Asia Cup. Legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna, who takes his place, is a pretty unknown quantity. Can he turn out to be another Ajantha Mendis?
- Bangladesh are in a very Pakistani situation, their chief selector, Akram Khan resigned in protest against the exclusion of talented but inconsistent left-hander Tamim Iqbal. According to Akram Khan, Tamim Iqbal had been included in the final squad, but the Bangladeshi Cricket Board president had stepped in and rejected his inclusion. Now after three days of drama, the board has suddenly retracted from its stand and re-inserted Tamim in the squad. Internal policy matters be damned, such infighting among the board can only have a negative effect on any team, let alone, on-paper the weakest team in the competition.
Despite their growth as a cricket team, Bangladesh have a dismal record in the competition, with their only victory in 29 matches coming against Hong Kong. However, on their day, Bangladesh are capable of putting it across any team in cricket, and the raucous, joyous home support they are sure to enjoy, will provide them with a much-needed impetus. They will be captained by Mushfiqur Rahim, and their battery of spinners have proved to be hard to dominate, especially in subcontinental conditions. Mashrafe Mortaza, the tall highly-regarded Bangladeshi pacer makes his return to his side. Shakib-Al-Hasan, easily among the best ODI allrounders in the world today, is also in the team and is a player whom many teams have underestimated at their own peril. Tamim Iqbal is another player of the mould of Mohammad Ashraful, if he gets going, he'll take the match out of the opposition's grasp. However more often than not, he flops and the team collapses with him. Hopefully, all this controversy over his inclusion will lead him to put his head down and concentrate on his batting.