Asia Cup preview


The 11th edition of the Asia Cup gets underway on Sunday, with all of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and hosts Bangladesh desperate to prove a point.

The 11th edition of the Asia Cup gets underway on Sunday, with all of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and hosts Bangladesh desperate to prove a point.

It's the start of a new era for <b>Pakistan</b> cricket as Dav Whatmore – no stranger to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – begins his tenure as head coach.

After suffering a series four-nil series whitewash to England in the UAE last month, Pakistan have the chance to put their ODI juggernaut back on track, having previously won seven ODIs in succession.

While it is a new era in terms of the management of the side, with fielding coach Julien Fountain also joining the ranks, it's a relatively settled squad Pakistan take into the tournament.

Misbah-ul-Haq continues with the captaincy, but former captain Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat and Adnan Akmal are all dropped. Nasir Jamshed comes back into the squad, while Sarfraz Ahmed continues to yo-yo in and out the squad, with the wicketkeeping duties likely to be shared between himself and Umar Akmal.

Junaid Khan misses out on selection through injury, but with Aizaz Cheema and Wahab Riaz battling it out for the second seamer spot behind Umar Gul, there is plenty of reserve for Pakistan in the bowling department.

World champions <b>India</b> come into the tournament with plenty of disappointment after a tough tour in Australia, where they copped a Test series whitewash and failed to qualify for the final of the tri-series competition involving the hosts and Sri Lanka.

While their last match in the series was a masterclass in run-chasing thanks to Virat Kohli, it failed to hide some growing unrest in a squad struggling to put together consistent performances.

The inevitable 'will he or won't he"' mystery continues, with Sachin Tendulkar about to enter his 12th month since scoring his 99th international century. His last ton came in the World Cup last year, when India lost by three wickets to South Africa in Nagpur.

His usual opening partner Virender Sehwag has been rested due to a back injury, but poor performances in Australia led the public to read between the lines and suggest the vice-captain had been dropped. This also comes after an alleged rift between Sehwag and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who denies there was a crack in their relationship.

But with Sehwag's omission brings the elevation of Kohli to the vice-captaincy and a chance to prove his temperament as potential future leader.

Zaheer Khan has also been given a rest after the grueling tour of Australia, allowing fast bowler Ashok Dinda to come back into the side along with big-hitting all-rounder Yusuf Pathan.

After the disappointment of being edged in the three-match final against Australia, and having half an eye on a Test series against England, <b>Sri Lanka</b> have given a rest to some key bowlers.

Spinner Rangana Herath and fast-bowling duo Dhammika Prasad and Chanaka Welegedara make way for Seekkuge Prasanna and Suranga Lakmal.

Mahela Jayawardene continues to impress with both his leadership and batting, having elevated himself to the opener's berth, while the team have also uncovered a new gem in the form of Dinesh Chandimal, who was arguably the most consistent Sri Lankan in Australia, with four half-centuries and an average above 50.

It's not all about the specialists for Sri Lanka, though, as Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara continue to show their worth with both bat and ball.

For hosts <b>Bangladesh</b> it's been an uneasy buildup to the tournament as team selections and backroom staff resignations have overshadowed their on-field work.

Chief selector Akram Khan resigned this week after his nephew Tamim Iqbal was excluded from the original Asia Cup squad. However, after three days of negotiations, the left-hander was brought back into the team.

Selection will, however, continue to be a talking point for the Tigers as former skipper Mohammad Ashraful remains in the side despite a dismal run of form. All of Alok Kapali, Naeem Islam, Rubel Hossain and Shahriar Nafees have been dropped from the squad, which lost the home series to Pakistan in December last year.

The five players called up to the squad are Mohammad Nazimuddin, Jahurul Islam, Anamul Haque, former captain Mashrafe Mortaza, and Shahadat Hossain. Anamul is the only uncapped player in the squad.

<b>Key Men</b><br><I>India:</i> If it's true that you're only as good as your last innings, then <b>Virat Kohli</b> is currently the world's most dangerous batsman in ODI cricket. Spurred on by his superb 133 against Sri Lanka, the newly-appointed vice-captain will be keen to inflict further damage.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Pakistan's ODI cricket has suffered a slump following the whitewash against England, but <b>Saeed Ajmal</b> and <b>Shahid Afridi</b> are two bowlers who can rip through any batting lineup and, with the sub-continent pitches usually favouring the spinners, facing these two will be intimidating.

<i>Sri Lanka:</i> While his recent figures have suggested he can go from one extreme of brilliance to the other of sheer mediocrity, <b>Lasith Malinga</b> is still going to be a threat with ball in hand as his toe-crushing yorkers have proven to trouble batsmen on any surface.

<I>Bangladesh:</i> Former captain <b>Shakib Al Hasan</b> has been the most consistent cricketer for Bangladesh in recent years in all forms of cricket and once again his all-round abilities will be relied on by the Tigers.

<b>Last 10 ODI Results</b><br><I>India:</i> WLLLTWWLWW<BR><i>Pakistan:</i> LLLLWWWWWW<BR><i>Sri Lanka:</i> LWLWLWWWTL<BR><I>Bangladesh:</i>LLLWLLWWLL

<b>Prediction</b><br>In such a short tournament there is no room for mistakes and with Sri Lanka showing signs of good form in Australia, one can expect to see them in the final. With Bangladesh likely to find themselves at the foot of the table, much will be decided when India and Pakistan clash on 18 March. The winner of that match should have a passage into the final.

Online betting firm <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> has India at 13/8, Pakistan 7/4, Sri Lanka 2/1 and Bangladesh 33/1 for outright victory in the series. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>cricket betting</B></a>.

<b>Squads</b><br><I>India:</i> Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Rahul Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Younus Khan, Umar Akmal, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Hammad Azam, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Aizaz Cheema.

<i>Sri Lanka:</i> Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul