The Football World Cup has shifted focus from cricket to football to some extent, but the Asia Cup commencing in 2 days will redirect the interest of Asian fans towards cricket. 4 teams are competing in this Cup and it is expected to be a competitive contest as none of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a significant advantage over the other in ODI cricket.
India is ranked no 3 in ODI cricket compared to Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s unimpressive rankings (6 and 7 respectively) but they are without two star players, Tendulkar and Yuvraj. Also, India’s bowling has only two consistent performers- Harbhajan and Zaheer. As expected India is carrying a strong spin attack- they have Ojha, Ashwin, Jadeja and of course the reliable Harbhajan. It seems the bowling attack could comprise of Zaheer, Nehra, Praveen, Harbhajan, Jadeja/Ojha and of course Sehwag can assist with a few overs. India is going ahead with a balanced line up- they have a decent amount of all rounders, their wicketkeeper is one of their best batsmen and they have a young, athletic side. What I consider to be a huge advantage from India’s point of view is that, Zaheer and Harbhajan can contribute with batting whereas Sehwag’s bowling form has been impressive over the past 2 years. So, unless the key players fail to perform it does not appear India will miss Tendulkar or Yuvraj.
India’s problems would be too much reliance on young players and lack of mental strength in
pressure situations. India still lacks reliable finishers, and one of the reasons for this has been the mastery of India’s top order with players like Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar- because these players have almost always been in decent form, the lower middle order has remained relatively underexposed to pressure situations. It is interesting to see that the average age of this Indian squad is only 25, which shows the emphasis of the BCCI on grooming youngsters and getting them ready for World Cup 2011.
Sri Lanka has proven to be an unpredictable side, much like Pakistan. Sri Lanka has often been accused of carrying players who have talent, but do not have the propensity to develop this talent into consistent match winning performances. Sri Lanka is going into this Cup with mostly experienced players; certainly the only 2 players who have played less than 15 matches are Welegedara and Randiv. However experience is a big advantage that Sri Lanka have, and it remains to be seen whether the batting prowess and experience of Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawerdene
can dominate the Indians and Pakistanis? However, India can argue that Sehwag, Dhoni and Gambhir are no less than the Sri Lankan batting stalwarts.
In bowling, Sri Lanka appears to be the weakest of the 3 main sides. They have the experienced Murali, but everyone knows he is beyond his best. Maharoof, Samaraweera, Malinga, Kulasekara can all be effective on their day, but are prone to inconsistency. The Sri Lankan team, as always, will have to rely on a team effort as they always do when they want to win. Provided their bowlers maintain discipline and their key batsmen contribute with runs, they can win this Cup. They are probably the best fielding side in the tournament. The average age of the Sri Lankan squad is 29.
Pakistan is the most mercurial side in this Cup and they have a new captain who does not have immense captaincy experience in ODI’s. Pakistan is also without its star batsmen Yousuf and
Younis but has been bolstered to an extent by the return of Shoaib Akhtar. I say, to an extent because if Akhtar gets injured or does not show form he can prove to be a big liability and affect the team morale badly. In fact the egregious error of selecting Akhtar and Malik has
saddened many fans, many who were looking to the future and hoping that underperformers would be sidelined from the team. There have also been question marks over the omission of promising batsmen Fawad Alam and Hammad Azam. Politics has clearly played its part and Pakistan is not going ahead with its premier squad.
Batting wise Pakistan remain as unstable as ever. Umar Akmal, Salman Butt and Malik are going ahead has Pakistan’s main batsmen in this Cup. Whereas Malik and Butt have still not been able to convince the fans that they deserve selection to play international cricket, U Akmal is
some cause for optimism. He is aggressive, reads the situation well and is very good at playing cross batted shots, which is often a rarity in international cricket. However, already U Akmal has been involved in controversy and this Cup will test his demeanour as to whether he can focus on his game and detract from dressing room politics. The biggest advantage that is held by Pakistan is that that their main batsmen- Malik, Butt and U Akmal have stellar records against Asian teams, particularly India.
In bowling, Pakistan is going ahead with the strongest line up on paper. Asif, Akhtar, Aamer and Ajmal are considered to be amongst the best in the world. However if one considers Akhtar’s normal fitness problems and Asif’s mediocre form over the past few months, then the Pakistani bowling appears vulnerable. Since Pakistan rarely ever plays as a team unit, they will be looking up to their potentially match winning bowlers and players like Afridi, Razzaq and U Akmal to swing matches in their favour.
In conlusion, the Asia Cup ought to be an exciting tournament with balanced teams. India can be beaten if their top order is dismissed cheaply, Sri Lanka can be beaten by performing basic tasks right, and Pakistan can be beaten by any means, by anyone at any time. Now it remains to be seen who exploits the other’s weakness best and who utilises their strengths in the best possible manner.