The Asia Cup is ideal preparation for all the teams, and they can take plenty of momentum and confidence into the World T20 to be played in India. The Asian Cricket Council should be lauded for changing the format from the usual 50-over version to help teams fine-tune their T20 preparations in conditions in Mirpur that won’t be too dissimilar to what can be expected in India.
While the T20 format is generally regarded as a young man’s game, India’s fortunes will ride a lot on how the experienced trio of Ashish Nehra, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh perform. I am particularly delighted for Ashish, who spent nearly five years on the sidelines after the 2011 World Cup before fighting his way back into the national team.
Ashish isn’t necessarily the best athlete, but by mastering the nuances of the 20-over game through all these seasons of IPL, he has established himself as the No 1 India bowler in this version.
To do so at 36 is no mean accomplishment. His left-arm over angle is a huge bonus which can be awkward for batsmen, especially because he is also capable of bringing the ball back into the right-hander. He is now a model of consistency, quickly able to gauge what the lengths are for specific pitches, and bringing his knowledge and vast experience into play.
Given his fragile body, Ashish couldn’t quite cope with the rigours of Test cricket. Increasingly, even one-day cricket was a bridge too far for him. But T20 requires him to bowl just four overs and he has adapted superbly. He bowls his overs with purpose and it is almost as if he is relishing the prospect of pitting his skills against batsmen determined to dismiss every ball from their presence.
He is a wicket-taker with the new ball and very good at the death with his craft. His return to the India side, that too as its top bowler, is a huge bonus for MS Dhoni and the team.
Yuvraj and Harbhajan are past masters who have shown they can handle the pressure of expectations with aplomb. Yuvraj in particular will seek over the next two months to replicate his feats of the 2011 World Cup when he was so influential in India going all the way.
He has had a difficult few years since, but there really is no substitute for class. As he showed during a brief spark in Australia, he still has what it takes to make an impact at the highest level. For him and Harbhajan, this could well be the final tilt at glory, and if they can make statements in their inimitable styles, India will be in fine fettle.
There is a look of solidity to the batting with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina all in great nick. With a fully fit batting line-up available, India have struggled to accommodate Ajinkya Rahane in the eleven, which merely indicates the depth. The bowling has plenty of variety though the continued absence of Mohammed Shami is a disappointment.
India are likely to be without Dhoni for Wednesday’s game against Bangladesh. While that is a setback for multiple reasons, Parthiv Patel has been in very good domestic form, and will look at this as another opportunity to establish himself as the number one limited-overs keeper after Dhoni.
Bangladesh will be no pushovers. There are a very competitive side who have mastered the art of winning on home soil; they have most bases covered, particularly with the arrival of some exciting pacemen. No one has fired the imagination more than Mustafizur Rahman. India were at the receiving end of his magic last year, and Mustafizur built on that confidence to single-handedly ensure more home wins in ODIs.
His USP is his ability to mix his pace at will and bowl a mean off-cutter from left-arm over. If India are even a touch complacent, he will punish them again.
(The writer is a former India pacer)