The fight for Asian supremacy begins on Tuesday. Along with the three contenders, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, minnows Bangladesh, Hong Kong and UAE too have thrown their hats into the ring, though they, especially the last two, would surprise even themselves if they do anything more than just make up the numbers.
India should enter the fray as favourites, they have won the Asia Cup four times, the maximum by any side. But it's not this statistic that gives them the edge. What puts them ahead of the others is the balance and options they have at their disposal, particularly in batting, and the consistency shown of late.
Although India lost the tri-series in Bangladesh, they looked the best side in the tournament, at least in terms of consistency. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been in cracking form since the IPL and they continued in the same vein in Dhaka. The middle order too has a pretty solid look about it with Yuvraj Singh and skipper M.S. Dhoni in fine touch and youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan adding further strength.
“We are a pretty balanced side and have a strong batting line-up and the bowlers too are doing well. But it will eventually boil down to application and execution of plans on that particular day,” said Dhoni, sounding unaffected by the absence of key bowlers Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth.
The confidence notwithstanding, Dhoni would rule out Pakistan and Sri Lanka's chances at his own peril. Pakistan might be a pale shadow from the team they used to be, but they retain an important characteristic of the past — giving their best when the odds are stacked against them. They did it in Bangladesh and are capable of it again.
Defending champions Sri Lanka too can’t be discounted. The side hasn’t had a good run after finishing the runners-up in the World Cup last year, having lost three ODI series since then. So, Mahela Jayawardene’s men would be keen to get back to winning ways. But that would be easier said than done with Lasith Malinga and Ferveez Mahroof missing out due to injury and veteran Chaminda Vaas looking a pale shadow of himself in the IPL.
Bangladesh did not inspire confidence in the tri-series but they are famous for causing upsets here and there. The best Hong Kong and UAE can hope for is to gather valuable experience by playing the top teams.
The Indians suffered a setback with Irfan Pathan certain to miss the first match against Hong Kong on Wednesday due to a side strain. "It's not much of a concern. He has a stiff side and we will rest him for the first game. Hopefully, he will be back for the second match against Pakistan,” said Dhoni.
Interestingly, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah had reportedly told a cricket website that Pathan had a niggle in his knee.