The 11th Asia Cup is upon us, and this is a big opportunity for the Indian team to temper the recent embarrassing performances abroad. They were the winners of the last edition in Sri Lanka in 2010, and that should give them a lot of confidence. Overall, they have won Asia's top ODI championship five times since its inception in 1984, the maximum by any team.
Despite all that has transpired in recent times, you cannot discount India's chances at making it to the final. They have a strong record in Bangladesh, and their record against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the hosts has been quite good of late.
MS Dhoni's team begins its campaign against Sri Lanka on March 13 in Mirpur, but the match that will keep everyone glued to their TVs in the subcontinent will be the one against Pakistan on March 18. India last played Pakistan in the World Cup semi-finals last year which they easily won. Since that defeat, the Pakistanis have gone from strength to strength and this fixture promises to be a real cracker.
India, who have also been thrice runners-up in the tournament's history, have played overall 36 matches, winning 22 of them, losing 13, while one match ended without a result. Over the years, the Asia Cup has thrown up some incredible matches, some incredible individual performances and looking at the quality of the teams this time around, this probably is going to be the best in terms of competitiveness.
Going by his recent exploits, Virat Kohli seems to be the safest bet. In India's final CB Series match against Sri Lanka in Hobart last week, the right-hander amply showed what he is capable of. His 133 not out off 86 balls was instrumental in India chasing down the Lankans' 320 for 4 inside 37 overs. Mind you, Kohli has been promoted to the vice-captaincy and that should boost his confidence all the more. The other two players who can make a big difference are Suresh Raina and captain Dhoni himself. On subcontinental pitches, both come into their own.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
India's strength has always been batting and it's going to be the same in this tournament. On docile pitches, almost everyone is expected to come good with the bat.
As far as weaknesses are concerned, it's their bowling and fielding. Zaheer Khan's absence is a big blow to India's chances. On dry wickets where the ball gets old very quickly, Zaheer could have been a big asset due to his ability to reverse-swing. Except Praveen Kumar, the rest of the bowlers are short on experience and that can be decisive. As far as fielding is concerned, the rest of the teams are none the better, so that won't be such a big factor.
India have played 17 matches against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup, winning eight of them. The rest resulted in losses. Against Pakistan, it's tied at 4-4 with one match ending in no result. Against Bangladesh, they have a cruising record, winning all eight encounters.
It's surely going to be India vs Pakistan. Their last encounter in the World Cup semi-final last year was nothing less than an absolute ripper. Bearing in the mind the history between these two teams, the match undoubtedly is the tournament's top billing. India against Sri Lanka will also excite curiosity a great deal but it can’t reach the level of an India-Pakistan match.
Happy Hunting Ground?
All the matches will be hosted by Mirpur's Shere Bangla National Stadium, which won't be a bad thing at all for the Indians who are unbeaten at this venue so far. In their last match here against Bangladesh in the World Cup opener last year, they easily won by 87 runs. They also played Bangladesh in the stadium's Test debut in 2007. Again, they were on the winning side. India also won two ODIs here the same year.
This could be a tough Asia Cup as all teams are quite strong. But India can be backed to add a sixth feather in their cap purely because of their recent domination in the region.
MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virat Kohli (vice-capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Rahul Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda.