In the new edition of the Asia Cup to be held in UAE from 15th September to 28th September , all eyes will be glued to see who lifts the trophy. Will it be India, the winner on six occasions? Will it be Sri Lanka, five-time winners and a team on a roll? Will it be Pakistan, a team of mavericks, who have won it only twice?
Will this cup belong to the underdogs, Afghanistan, who just won the ICC world Cup Qualifier defeating West Indies. May be it is the turn of Bangladesh who lost two finals in 2016 and 2012.
Asia Cup 2018 is a 50 over ODI tournament and in 2020 it will be again a T-20 tournament. Before world cup 2019 it is a good tournament to blood talent. All countries have sent teams which are infused with youngsters and by the time the tournament ends the world will witness new stars on the horizon.
A word about the venues
The tournament is being played at UAE, and two stadiums will host the matches. Dubai International cricket stadium (eight matches) and Shekh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi (five matches). When we think of UAE, we tend to think spinner’s track, low scores and a definite edge to Pakistan as they have played so many tests and ODIs in Dubai in the recent past.
Lately, however, the pitches that have been laid favour pace more. Even teams like Hong Kong and UAE have scored 312 and 275. Furthermore, wickets were taken by pacers instead of spinners.
So, all the readers, who were of the opinion that matches will be full of spin, I am sorry to disappoint you. Pacers will have an equal role in the play. I feel who ever will marshal their pace battery in an ingenious manner will win the tournament.
In the PSL, which saw matches being held in the above-mentioned venues, four of the top five wicket-takers were pacers. Faheem Ashraf received the Maroon Cup and he will be a threat at the same venues. Among batsman top 5 batsmen were those who could cut, pull and lift the ball. Luke Ronchi, Kamran Akmal and Shane Watson were the major scorers. This affirms that stadiums have changed their colour. We will have exciting matches which can go either way.
Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shan Masood, Sarfraz Ahmed(c), Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir.
Pakistan is a different team since they won against India in the Champions Trophy Final last year . They had a tremendous outing in 2018 where they have beaten Australia 2-1 and crushed Zimbabwe 5-0. They also drew a Test series with England, 1-1.
Their team is young and captained by the unassuming Sarfraz Ahmed. Their batting is on a roll. Fakhar Zaman hit 210 against a hapless Zimbabwe this year. Further Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam are truly world class.
In the bowling department Shadab Khan as a champion spinner is casting webs around batsmen. In the pace department, they have Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Faheem, but the player to watch out for is Shaheen Afridi. 6 feet 6 inches tall with no experience of playing first class matches. This makes him a wild card who can bamboozle teams all around with his unpredictability.
Sri Lanka Squad
Angelo Mathews(c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella
Sri Lanka has been doing well lately. They drubbed South Africa 2-0 in tests. In ODIs they lost to south Africa 2-3 but they won the last two. However, the architect of their wins were the pitches and in UAE, their bowlers will not be the same force.
In batting Kusal Mendis did a fabulous job along with Danushka Gunathilaka, Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Matthews. Unfortunately for the Lions, Chandimal is out and Gunalathika just faced a disciplinary punishment.
In bowling Lasith Malinga is back and he is well supported by Suranga Lakmal. They will ask questions but cannot rattle opposition. In the spinning department they have novelty and young Akila Dhananjaya is doing wonders with veteran Dilruwan Perera. Still, they will miss the talents and experience of Rangana Herath.
I do not see them going into the finals and even in the round robin phase they may face jitters.
Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanulluah Jamat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Stanikzai, Hasmat Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Najibullah Zadran, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shenwari, Munir Ahmed, Sayed Ahmed Sherzad, Ashraf, Momand Wafadar.
The dark horse of the tournament. While winning the ICC qualifier tournament Afghanistan defeated West Indies twice. Zimbabwe was humbled and Ireland was squarely defeated. Their hero is 19-year-old Rashid Khan, who has bamboozled his opposition in IPL and the Big Bash League. His batting is a big plus and who can forget his long sixes for Sunrisers. He is ably supported by Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who is a miser in giving runs.
Afghanistan carved a 2-0 victory against Bangladesh, Ireland 2-1 and squared series with West Indies 1-1. They are in a pool with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka . Their matches will be something to look forward to.
They are supported by a decent pace attack but their batting is brittle. If Mohammad Shahzad doesn’t play well and Mohammad Nabi doesn’t provide the impetus, then Afghanistan cannot put up an imposing total.
One surprise and you are in semifinals and with this spirit in their belly I am expecting Afghanistan in the semifinals.
Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza(c), Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, Ariful Haque, Mahmudullah, Mosaddek Hossain, Mehidy Hasan, Nazmul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Hider Rony, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque
The Tigers roared in 2012 and 2016 Asia cups but the same war horses are still continuing. If Tamim Iqbal, Mustafizur Rahman and Shakib Al Hasan don’t deliver, Bangladesh suffers. In bowling they are great in home pitches but outside they are pedestrian. They were humbled 0-2 by Afghanistan in India. In Tests they were drubbed by West Indies 2-0 at the latter’s home. In ODIs, however, Tamim hit two centuries and won two games. Shakib has postponed an impending operation to play Asia Cup in order to bolster Bangladesh’s chances.
The bowlers have not fulfilled the promise. Mehidy Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain can be only support bowlers. In pace they are dependent on old warhorses like Mashrafe Mortaza, Rubel Hossain etc. So, we can’t expect them to be in semifinals barring a miraculous performance by veterans.
Anshuman Rath(c), Aizaz Khan, Babar Hayat, Cameron McAulsan, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Arshad Mohammad, Kinchit Shah, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Raag Kapur, Scott McKechnie, Tanveer Ahmed, Tanwir Afzal, Waqas Khan, Aftab Hussain.
ICC has given matches against Hong Kong the ODI status. So it is an incentive for openers of India and Pakistan to make merry. Hong Kong team is full of Indian and Pakistani origin people. Credit, however, must be given to Anshuman Rath, Babar Hayat, Ehsan Khan, Nizakat Khan played exceptionally well to defeat teams of UAE, Nepal and Singapore. They, however, will be journeymen and they will provide match practice to India and Pakistan.
Rohit Sharma(c), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed
An Indian team without Kohli is unthinkable in tests but in subcontinent ODIs his absence can be compensated by others. It reminds me of the inaugural Asia cup in 1984, where in absence of star players Surinder Khanna played swashbuckling innings to spearhead India to victory. Khanna was also named the Player of the Series in that tournament.
I had written that Indian team which went to England was a bad one, chosen on reputation rather than capability to negotiate swing bowling. I had predicted that India will lose miserably which turned out to be true. However here my take is different! In UAE, our team members are well equipped and they can hit any bowler anywhere as the ball doesn’t swing.
The team is skippered by the mercurial Rohit Sharma, who is smarting under exclusion from England Tour. KL Rahul has got his confidence back, after hitting a big hundred in last test. Ambati Rayudu and Dhoni will provide good support. The pitches are not suitable for 300+ so Dhoni will not be a liability as he is in long chases.
Pace bowling will be strengthened by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who always gets initial breakthroughs. Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will be as dependable as usual. In the spin department our wrist spinners will flummox the opposition as Kuldip Yadav did it in England. However Indian middle order is brittle and if opposition scores 300+ I do not see them chasing huge targets.
Still on the talent front Indian team is way ahead and their experienced campaigners will ensure that India doesn’t crumble under pressure cooker situations.
The Final Analysis
19th September, India vs Pakistan will decide who will play as top team but on 20th September Afghanistan vs Bangladesh will decide the other semifinalists. I am expecting a surprise as I am envisaging Afghanistan will defeat Bangladesh.
In semi-finals India will win irrespective of any country it faces. In other semifinal Pakistan can be defeated by Sri Lanka. So all fans should pray that Pakistan face someone else.
If India faces any one, other than Pakistan, it should win the Asia Cup. In case Pakistan reaches finals with India, the result is unpredictable. For Pakistan, a bunch of talented youngsters can turn the tables via a spirited performance. Similarly, their shoulders can drop if Indian pacers strike early blows. Pakistan lacks rearguard action but their trio of Fakhar, Imam and Babar can play havoc with Indian aspirations.
So according to me India is going to lift Asia Cup for the record seventh time. Come 28th September and Visualize Rohit Sharma lifting the cup and allaying wounds suffered in the English Summer.
The views expressed here are of the author.