The Asia Cup is one of the most highly-awaited events in the international cricket calendar. After all, it is this ODI tournament which decides who are the champions of Asian cricket. Asia is the world’s biggest continent and contains some of the biggest cricketing superpower nations. This time around, the tournament would only be played between India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is the confirmed host of this tournament with Dambulla hosting all the matches.
The matches would be day-night starting from June 15 and ending on June 24, when the final takes place. All teams will play each other once, and the top two teams in the points table will qualify for the final. However, all the 4 teams have enough in them to win this tournament. Let’s have a look at their prospects –
Alongside India, Sri Lanka has the fire-power to go all out at the Asia Cup. Being the home team can be tricky as there will be a lot of support, yet extreme pressure of winning to satisfy the home crowd. However, Sri Lanka can gain solace that they have been the defending champions of the crown since 2004. They beat India comprehensively in the finals of the last two editions. Unlike their opponents, Sri Lankan cricket is in a good state. The team did very well in the World T-20 by entering the semi-finals. They also discovered the USA by playing New Zealand in 2 T-20s in that country, which resulted in a 1-1 level.
Co-incidentally, Sri Lanka will play in the tri-series in Zimbabwe with a young team, just as India. And also a new captain in Tillakratne Dilshan. Sri Lanka has their sights on the World Cup next year. So Sri Lanka would definitely give everything to win this tournament, that too, at home. Having said that, Sri Lanka would be tired of looking at the faces of the Indian players because both the countries have played each other so many times in the last two years!
Definitely, the favourites to win the tournament. The second-best ODI team in the world would look to move one step further after making the finals in the previous two editions of the tournament (2004 and 2008). Indian cricket is on a low at the moment, with various issues to tackle with from the IPL mess to India’s below-par performance at the World T-20 in the Caribbean. Yet a month or two is a long period of time for matters to get normal. Before the tournament, India will play Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in a triangular ODI series in Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Suresh Raina.
Raina will be leading a young, inexperienced team as all the seniors have been rested. So, expect the youth to flourish in Zimbabwe, as the selectors are looking at the formation of the World Cup 2011 squad. The youngsters can get an opportunity in the Asia Cup as well, as a test of their consistency at the international level. A rejuvenated India would look to gain their lost confidence and pride, which they need in order to prepare well for next year’s world championship in the Indian sub-continent itself!
Undoubtedly, Pakistan are the dark horses to win this tournament. It’s an unpredictable team even in 50-over cricket. However, Pakistan cricket is in complete turmoil at the moment due to the match-fixing allegations rising during their ill-fated, winless tour of Australia. In fact, they haven’t even announced their new ODI captain as yet. Although it is likely that Shahid Afridi would be given the responsibility to lead the side in the Asia Cup as his first assignment, yet it seems that the PCB is hell-bent on wasting time by sitting in meetings and criticizing players for their poor performances in Australia earlier this year. Instead, the future is not being looked at.
In this state of darkness, the only bright spot to be seen is Pakistan making it to the semifinals of the World T-20 this year. Afridi lead a young team exceptionally well as they beat Bangladesh and South Africa in the tournament and qualified for the semis with a good net run-rate. All this considering the ban of senior players such as Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. Perhaps, the bans could be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan as the new team will have 9 months in hand to prepare for the World Cup next year, with the popular and ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi as their leader.
A very under-estimated team and the minnows of the tournament, Bangladesh hasn’t had many great cricketing moments ever since a successful tour of the West Indies back in July last year. Though the team is improving slowly, yet a question mark remains on whether it can compete at the international level with the top 8 ODI teams. A first-round exit at the World T-20 did them and the game no good, although they did bowl well against Australia.
Their run-up to the Asia Cup will depend to a certain extent upon their performances in the Test matches in England, although ODIs is a different format altogether. They desperately need Mohd. Ashraful to bring back the spark that he had produced at the beginning of his career. And a raging Tamim Iqbal can also be dangerous prospects for the opponents. If Bangladesh performs as a team on the whole, then at least the team can get a berth in the finals, although there is less chance looking at the opposition Bangladesh are up against.
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