The significance of Asia Cup has never been as high as the one that begins on Wednesday. The only reason for this is the scheduling of the battle for Asian supremacy– before the 2016 edition of World T20, said Vinay Siwach on the Indian Express.
And to make it more significant than the past 12 editions is the change in format– from ODI to T20. It now serves as the World Cup of Asia before the teams head into big one, being played in similar conditions. While two teams will be decided by the qualifying tournament currently being played between Afghanistan, UAE, Oman and Hong Kong, the Asian giants– India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh– begin their tournament from February 24.
Since the format has undergone a change, picking a favorite wouldn’t be a wise decision. If form is on India’s side, Pakistan can never be out of the game, Sri Lanka are former World T20 champs and Bangladesh, at home, could be a stiff opposition.
For India, this would be an ideal platform for a reality check before the World T20 at home. After thrashing Australia in Australia, India had a hiccup against Sri Lanka in the first T20I in Pune but normalcy was restored in the next two T20Is.
MS Dhoni has maintained that his team wears a balanced look and the bowling attack has improved significantly with the inclusion of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya. While Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin will make full use of the conditions in Bangladesh, India may look to try out Harbhajan Singh and Pawan Negi before the World Cup.
India’s five Asia Cup titles fail to matter as in T20 format, it starts at 0-0, all the time. It holds true for all others teams as well. Sri Lanka, also five-time champions, have to restart after losing the services of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. While Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews have returned to the squad after missing out from the India series, the return of Rangana Herath is a big plus for the island nation who are missing the spin threat this time around.
The previous three editions of Asia Cup have been played in Bangladesh but the hosts, runners-up in the 2012 edition, would look to spring a surprise and given their resurgence in international cricket in the past one year, they are very much capable of doing so. The likes of Shakib-Al-Hasan, Mustafizur Rahman, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mashrafe Murtaza and Tamim Iqbal are seasoned campaigners, and wouldn’t want to disappoint the support they receive from the home crowd.
The best chance, however, remains with Pakistan. The Pakistan Super League has shown some serious talent in Pakistan cricketing circles and the experience will help them in the Asia Cup. Once again, Shahid Afridi will be the flag-bearer of hopes assisted by veteran Shoaib Malik. Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan will lead the bowling for them. Given the T20I records of their players, it would be a surprise if Pakistan fail to make it to the final. But sometimes, the best laid plans go wrong and Pakistan have a habit of doing so more often than not.
While it does offer a lot to all the teams and fans, the Asia Cup can help the teams gain momentum before the World T20. On the other hand, teams can face the problem of peaking too early and turn out to be flops at the April extravaganza.