The past 2 or 3 years have been cherishable for the Indian cricket fans. There have been many positives that India has achieved during this time. A young captain has emerged as a formidable strategist who is not only good at motivating his team mates but is also a very skilled batsman. Youngsters like Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa have cemented their place in the side. On the bowling front the pacers have developed consistency and have shown remarkable form and fitness levels. India has benefited from the return of Pathan, the consistency of RP Singh and the pace and youthful exuberance of Ishant Sharma. Further Harbhajan Singh when playing has been effective as ever and Piyush Chawla has impressed, whatever little we have seen of him. There are also a few other talented spinners waiting for an opportunity to shine.
The IPL revealed many competent Indian cricketers, many of whom were unheard of until the event took place. But the Indian perspective cannot be properly analysed without saying that, for all the talent and positives seen from the IPL, ODI cricket is a different ball game. It is India’s position in ODI’s currently and in particular this Asia Cup that this article explores.
Most would assert India is going with the strongest batting line up. It has been mentioned earlier on this blog that India is blessed with 5 excellent batsmen; namely, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, R Sharma and Dhoni. Although Rohit Sharma is out of form and although we have not seen him a lot, whatever we have seen is very encouraging. He has a good temperament, class and very good batting sense. Although there are good batsmen playing for Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well, it does not take a genius to realise that in terms of form and consistency the Indian batsmen beat their Pakistani and Sri Lankan counterparts by a mile.
Although India’s bowling is weaker than its batting (and almost always has been) it seems it is still a formidable bowling unit. Irfan Pathan, Praveen, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma are all in good form. The other main bowlers in the squad are Gony, Piyush Chawla and Ojha. Gony was very good in IPL and Chawla has a good head on his shoulders so there are huge expectations from him.
One major advantage for India, and which can be utilised by Dhoni as a trump card, is the number of all rounders in the squad. Traditionally India has lacked solid all rounders who deliver consistent performances with ball and bat. In this squad Dhoni has Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan. There are also of course Yuvraj and Sehwag who can bowl if need be.
India will have no problem with the pitches and weather conditions in Pakistan, as the conditions would be more or less identical as India. We have shared opinions about whether the home advantage counts or not. It seems the consensus has been, that what is more important than home advantage is the form and confidence of a side. Recently India have performed well In Pakistan against Pakistan. 5 or 10 years ago they could not perform as remarkably. So the overall quality of a side matters more than where it is playing. Even if there is such a thing as “home advantage” it is likely to be nullified in the face of a confident and competent side, where the batsmen make plenty of runs and bowlers take wickets and keep runs down.
In terms of opposition, it would perhaps be fair to say that both Pakistan and Sri Lanka present an equal threat to India, although most of us have already agreed India is the strongest team in the series. Sri Lanka are expected to demonstrate more application and consistency than Pakistan. Whereas India will be wary of Pakistan’s ability to surprise as they clearly did in the Kitply Cup final. It is this “surprise element” Pakistan carries that makes it equally competent to Sri Lanka, when considered objectively as an opposition to India.
So India cannot afford to take Pakistan lightly in Thursday’s game. Maybe Pakistan is going with a slight psychological advantage having won the last game the two sides played and also because the Indians may have felt they needed some rest after Wednesday’s game against Hong Kong. Having said that, the way Hong Kong was thrashed made them seem like mere cannon fodder and India may have had the requisite match practice it needs to counter Pakistan with all guns blazing.
What happened in the Kitply Cup final from Pakistan’s perspective may have seemed a fluke, but from India’s perspective it proves that despite India’s recent infallible status the Indian side is still vulernable to a surprise attack from the opposition. Hence a competitive Asia Cup is expected and it remains to be seen whether Dhoni’s invigorated boys will rise to the occasion and win the Asia Cup for their country for the 5th time.