Chance for champion India to redeem itself

GETTING READY: Pakistan players, including Younis Khan (left) and Shahid Afridi (second from left), practise ahead of the first match of the Asia Cup against Bangladesh.

GETTING READY: Pakistan players, including Younis Khan (left) and Shahid Afridi (second from left), practise ahead of the first match of the Asia Cup against Bangladesh.  


Asia Cup gets underway today with Pakistan taking on host Bangladesh

Almost a year has raced past but the hangover of the last World Cup, lingers in parts at the Shahjalal International Airport here. A few banners with the words ‘The Cup That Counts' grace the exit points of Dhaka's connection with the rest of the globe while the city is all set to solely host another event, though smaller in scale.

The Asia Cup's latest edition, its tenth, will commence at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium here on Sunday with Bangladesh and Pakistan contesting the opening tie. Since Dhaka's tryst with the hype and hurry which World Cups bequeath, a lot has changed with the four teams including India and Sri Lanka, which will compete in this tournament.

The Indian team landed here at noon after a delayed flight and the thick haze in the air out here, almost reflected the squad's current context that has been shaped by recent defeats and a generational shift. The loss in the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia, the strident calls for change and the end of an era, as signified by Rahul Dravid's retirement, are all pointers to the churn that has bubbled across the Indian teams cutting across all formats.

A year after India launched its World Cup campaign in style thanks to Virender Sehwag's big century against Bangladesh, the team is now searching for positive clues and the man, who then set up the springboard, is now nursing a sore back and resting at home. M.S. Dhoni needs to find his and the team's destiny all over again.

The familiar sub-continental conditions and a fine run so far in the Asia Cup — India has won the trophy on five occasions and is the defending champion — might well be the cue-cards that will spur the Men in Blue to shed diffidence and embrace defiance.

Shaking off a tag

The host meanwhile will try hard to get over its label of being proverbial minnows but the bunch led by Mushfiqur Rahim has had off-field issues marring its preparation. The initial omission of Tamim Iqbal and the belated reinstatement of the opener is a distraction that the team could have avoided.

Bangladesh's opponent on Sunday — Pakistan, has lived up to its regular path of exhilarating highs and dreary lows. After defeating England 3-0 in the Tests at the United Arab Emirates, Misbah-ul-Haq's men lost the ODI series at 0-4 and the Twenty20s at 1-2.

Off-spinner Saeed Ajmal remained consistent but the rest hit a downward spiral. However against Bangladesh, Pakistan might spark a revival. The 3-0 victory it registered at the host's expense in ODIs here last December, will keep the visitor in good humour.

New coach Dav Whatmore is an old South Asia hand, having guided Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the past, and it remains to be seen how he adjusts to the diverse pulls inside the Pakistan dressing room.

While India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are grappling with slumps in form, Sri Lanka will draw sustenance from its performance in Australia. The Commonwealth Bank Series may have been lost but Mahela Jayawardene's return to captaincy and runs have enhanced Sri Lanka's fighting attributes.

Add to it Kumara Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan's form, Lasith Malinga's potency despite the lashing he suffered from Kohli and Dinesh Chandimal's assurance that belies his 22 summers, and you have a team that has self-belief.

The tournament, which seems to be an interlude between the two premier leagues — Bangladesh and Indian — will have its share of alternate signposts besides the over-riding question of who will walk away with the cup on March 22.

The match between India and Pakistan here on March 18 and the extended sub-text of Sachin Tendulkar's long wait for his 100th international hundred that has spread over 32 innings, will add to the expectations.

The teams (from): Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (captain), Imrul Kayes, Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Nazimuddin, Jahurul Islam, Mohammad Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Elias Sunny, Nazmul Hossain, Shafiul Islam, Shahadat Hossain and Anamul Haque. Coach: Stuart Law.

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Hammad Azam, Asad Shafiq, Shahid Afridi, Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema and Wahab Riaz. Coach: Dav Whatmore.

Umpires: Ian Gould and Paul Reiffel; Third umpire: S. Ravi; Match referee: David Boon.

Match starts at 1.30 p.m. IST

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 8:57:14 PM |

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