Khaleej Times – 29 August, 2023
It is the final stop for five of the six teams to find answers for some nagging questions ahead of the World Cup
Three possible high-octane India versus Pakistan games for the starved fans on both sides of the border along with a final chance for five nations to put their respective houses in order before the World Cup adds context to Asia Cup, starting in Multan on Wednesday.
It is a tournament that has often struggled to find relevance in the midst of mushrooming bilateral contests over the last decade along with waning popularity of ODI cricket.
But the 2023 edition, beginning on Wednesday, has occupied a large slice of the mind space of team think tanks.
It is the final stop for five of the six teams barring Nepal, to find answers for some nagging questions ahead of the global event, starting on October 5.
Of course, there are some bilateral and practice matches ahead of the cricket’s big show.
But the Asia Cup, to be played in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, will give the teams the atmosphere of a multi-nation tournament, closely mirroring that of the World Cup.
India will enter the Asia Cup as a seven-time champions, most by any team, but adding an eighth title might just not feature on top of their bucket list.
A title win will certainly be welcomed, but the brain bank consisting of head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma will be eager to see a few pieces fall in place ahead of the World Cup.
India will closely monitor the form and fitness of KL Rahul and Shreyas Iye who have just returned from long injury layoffs.
Rahul, who has been added conditionally to the India squad, will miss the first two games as per head coach Dravid and time is running away for the Bengaluru keeper-batter to get match-fit for the competition.
While Rahul has shown progress in batting levels post his recuperation from a surgery, his readiness to keep wickets is still under scrutiny as he has sustained a niggle while squatting.
Rahul will be watched closely during the Asia Cup as his presence adds a sense of solidity and flexibility to India’s middle-order.
However, Iyer is expected to take to the field when India face Pakistan on September 2 at Pallekele.
Iyer had gone through extensive drills at nets and match simulation process at the NCA ahead of his selection to the Asia Cup squad.
But the management will be anxious to know how the right-handed batter responds to the rigorousness of a real match situation.
There will be similar levels of anxiety about Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna.
The pacers made their return to the India side during the three-match T20I series against Ireland earlier this month after a lengthy injury layoff. They had bowled with intensity as well.
But the demands of ODI cricket is different from T20Is as they will have to bowl 10 overs, besides fielding for 50 overs.
The Indian management will be keen to observe how the pace duo responds to the increased workload in the energy-sapping humid conditions in Sri Lanka.
India remains the main cast of the Asia Cup but Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will also vie to be within our attention bandwidth.
In their own right, they are compelling teams as well. Sri Lanka, who have six Asia Cup titles, are struggling to find a full squad after injuries to Dushmantha Chameera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara and Dilshan Madhushanka.
Chameera, Kumara and Madhushanka can crank up pace in excess of 140 kmph and their absence will be a big worry for Sri Lanka, as they may even miss the action for a longer duration.
Bangladesh’s build up to the tournament as often it happens is mired in cacophony – injured Tamim Iqbal and Ebadot Hosain are ruled out, leading to the reinstatement of Shakib Al Hasan as ODI captain after a gap of six years.
Among the turbulence that other teams found themselves in, Pakistan, surprisingly, offer the picture of a settled unit.
The Green Brigade will be eager to land a title here as that will add an extra dollop of confidence to their World Cup campaign.
Under Babar Azam, Pakistan have also risen to No. 1 in ICC ODI rankings after the recent 3-0 series win over Afghanistan, and they could be peaking at the right time.
That series was the latest episode in the newest rivalry in cricket – Pakistan vs Afghanistan.
It is yet to get hyped at the Indo-Pak level, but the tussle has already offered enough flash points highlighting its potentially explosive future.
The Asia Cup might just add another chapter to it.
So, over the next three weeks we will see rivalries getting renewed and the emergence of some new heroes. But all that is behind the looming shadow of the World Cup.
August 30-September 17
Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Pakistan, India, Nepal
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super Four. Then the top two teams from the Super Four will qualify for the final.
August 30: Pakistan v Nepal in Multan (Pakistan)
August 31: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka in Kandy (Sri Lanka)
September 2: Pakistan v India in Kandy (Sri Lanka)
September 3: Bangladesh v Afghanistan in Lahore (Pakistan)
September 4: India v Nepal in Kandy (Sri Lanka)
September 5: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka in Lahore (Pakistan)
September 6: A1 v B2in Lahore (Pakistan)
September 9: B1 v B2in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
September 10: A1 v A2 in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
September 12: A2 v B1 in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
September 14: A1 v B1 in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
September 15: A2 v B2 in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
September 17, in Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Haris, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Saud Shakeel, Tayyab Tahir (travelling reserve).
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (vc), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumraj, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Sanju Samson (travelling reserve).
Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (c), Pathum Nissanka, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dushan Hemantha, Dunith Wellalage, Maheesh Theekshana, Pramod Madushan, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Matheesha Pathirana
Nepal: Rohit Paudel (c), Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Bhim Sharki, Kushal Malla, Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulshan Jha, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Pratish GC, Mousom Dhakal, Sundeep Jora, Kishore Mahato, Arjun Saud.
Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (c), Litton Kumer Das, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Towhid Hridoy, Mushfiqur Rahim, Afif Hossain Dhrubo, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taskin Ahmed, Hasan Mahmud, Mustafizur Rahman, Shoriful Islam, Nasum Ahmed, Shak Mahedi Hasan, Naim Sheikh, Shamim Hossain, Tanzid Hasan Tamim, Tanzim Hasan Sakib.
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil, Rashid Khan, Gulbadin Naib, Karim Janat, Abdul Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Suliman Safi, Fazalhaq Farooqi.