10 things to watch at the Asia Cup


Sri Lanka’s top order of ball-timers
No one can reasonably claim that Sri Lanka have mightier batsmen than India or Pakistan, but their probable top four are perhaps the most watchable bunch in the tournament. Upul Tharanga has velvet offside shots; Kusal Mendis plays serenely on the legside; Niroshan Dickwella is dynamic behind the wicket; and Dhananjaya de Silva – if he plays – is the most pleasing of the lot, his cutting, driving, sweeping and pulling so languid you wonder if the whole thing is happening in slow motion. The challenge, as ever, for this Sri Lanka batting order, is to survive for long enough to give themselves a chance of unfurling those dazzling attacking strokes.

Pakistan’s pace battery
Nothing quite tells you a side values the art of fast bowling more than picking six seamers for a series on the traditionally placid pitches of the UAE. Pakistan, who’ve played more in that country than any other of late, surprised many with their squad selection.

Mohammad Amir, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi and Junaid Khan all feature in the 16-man squad, and this might have something to do with giving all legitimate contenders a chance to stake their claim for a slot in the World Cup in England, where their abilities are likely to carry far greater menace. Besides, such an array of capable options means Pakistan can afford to rest their pacers more frequently than any other side at the Asia Cup – something any fast bowler would be thankful for in hot, tough conditions – and every opposition would do well to be wary of well-rested Pakistan quicks.

Bangladesh’s Fizz at the death
Mustafizur Rahman is expected to do the bulk of Bangladesh’s bowling in the death overs, invariably closing out the innings. In 14 matches in the last two years, he has conceded at 5.53 runs per over in the last five overs of an ODI, and picked up eight wickets in this period. His variations obviously come into play, but so do deliveries which simply run past right and left-handers. Rubel Hossain has taken 11 wickets in the same phase of the innings (since 2016), but he doesn’t have Mustafizur’s control and can leak runs.

Afghanistan’s bare pace cupboard
Afghanistan’s vaunted spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi propelled them through to 2019 World Cup in March and more recently to a 2-1 ODI series win over Ireland in Belfast. But the heavy reliance on them to win matches has partly been a consequence of increasingly thin pace-bowling depth.

At the 2015 World Cup, Aftab Alam was the reserve seamer behind three superb options in Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran. All three have suffered injury or loss of form since, meaning Alam has been thrust into the role as the leader of the pace attack. Alam fared okay with five wickets in three ODIs against Ireland while allrounder Gulbadin Naib filled out the rest of the overs as a makeshift second seam option. But the lack of a genuine frontline seamer to support Alam is a concern and it may be the weak link that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh look to exploit when the Group B games get underway.

India’s middle-order conundrum
KL RahulManish PandeyKedar JadhavDinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayuduare all jostling for positions in the middle order. How do India go about picking from among these options?

Karthik’s struggles in England against the red ball and his subsequent ouster from the Test squad makes his Nidahas Trophy heroics and sparkling IPL form seem distant. Pandey had a horror IPL, but has been in a prolific white-ball form: his last four innings – all against the A teams of India, South Africa and Australia – read 73*, 117*, 21* and 95*. Rayudu has overcome the yo-yo setbackby showing consistency for India A, and KL Rahul has shown flashes of brilliance across formats but hasn’t been able to marry it with consistency. But none of them can bowl, and, in England, India dearly missed someone from the top six who could bowl.

This, therefore, gives Jadhav an obvious edge on two counts: he is the only one among the middle-order options who can bowl, and his slow offspin with a low-arm slingy action creates difficulties for batsmen on sluggish surfaces. But his fitness has always been a concern, even more now as he is returning from a five-month layoff due to a hamstring injury. With Virat Kohli rested, an extra spot could open up. This means three of these five could feature in any given XI. The race to own these spots will be an interesting one. Courtesy cricinfo.com

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