Dubai, For the second consecutive Asia Cup, India and Bangladesh will meet in the final – a contest between a team that hasn’t lost a match yet and another that’s stuttered before finding its feet.It’s safe to say that India start as the favourites to win their second consecutive Asia Cup title, and seventh overall, when they face Bangladesh in Dubai on Friday.
They are undefeated in the tournament, have the most potent opening combination among all the teams in the competition – Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are among the top three scorers – and have picked up wickets with the new ball in all but one game, which has proved out to be a key factor on the slow Dubai pitches that make run-scoring difficult for new batsmen.
They were pushed to a tie by Afghanistan in their last Super Four game, but India had rested several key players for the dead rubber – they should be better equipped to counter such a challenge should Bangladesh present them with one, an ICC report on Thursday said.
India had come into the tournament with the aim of finalising their middle order – No 4 downwards – ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. While some of those who have had hits from No 4 to No.7 – Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Ravindra Jadeja – have done decently, the ability to absorb pressure in a tough chase, like was the case against Afghanistan who set India 253 to win, is still under question.
India have had it relatively straightforward after a scare in the first outing, against Hong Kong. In all these games, they were helped by strong starts from Dhawan and Sharma, both of whom have at least one century so far.
Against Afghanistan as well, the new opening combination of KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu added 110 runs for the first wicket, but some disciplined bowling saw India slide from there to 166/4 and then again from 204/4 to 226/7, showing that they were fallible in the middle overs if put under sufficient pressure.
The top order will be the hurdle for Bangladesh, and if they can get the Sharma and Dhawan out for not many, things might get interesting.
As far as bowling is concerned, India are settled with all of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Jadeja among the wickets.
Bangladesh have their own issues to deal with. It has been a haphazard tournament for them, where they have had to dig deep and fight themselves out of precarious situations. There have been hospital visits, reinforcements flying in from home, and injuries at crucial junctures.
Tamim Iqbal sustained a fracture in his left wrist in the team’s first game against Sri Lanka and was ruled out of the rest of the games, and Shakib Al Hasan aggravated an injury to his left little finger hours before the knockout clash against Pakistan and was ruled out of that game as well as the final.
That Bangladesh are still in the final despite two of their most experienced men out is, in most parts, down to the third major wheel of Bangladesh batting machine – Mushfiqur Rahim.
The wicket-keeper batsman has 297 runs at 74.35 with one century, and his 99 against Pakistan on Wednesday acted as a catalyst in Bangladesh’s victory after they were 12/3 in the fifth over.
Outside of Rahim and Mohammad Mithun, who has hit two 60s and joined Rahim in big partnerships on two occasions, it hasn’t been too consistent. In Iqbal’s absence, Bangladesh have tried different combinations at the top with Liton Das, Nazmul Hossain and Soumya Sarkar, but none of them have worked.
The Bangladesh openers have managed 5, 16, 15, 15 and 1 for the first wicket and, clearly, this has been a big problem for them. With India’s potent pace attack against them, it’s a concern for Mashrafe Mortaza’s men.
That said, Imrul Kayes scored a half-century in his first game against Afghanistan after being flown in from Dhaka, and Mahmudullah averages 30.40 – the back-up act hasn’t been bad.
On the bowling front, Mustafizur Rahman is the second-highest wicket-taker with eight wickets at 18.37 and has been their main weapon with the new ball as well as at the death. He has Rubel Hossain, captain Mortaza and spinner Mehidy Hasan for company.
Bangladesh are a determined bunch, who have made a habit of toppling big teams. India look too strong on paper, but this could become a super contest if Bangladesh can raise their game.
Rohit Sharma (India): The stand-in India captain will look to cross one final hurdle and win his second Asia Cup, and first as captain. He is the second-highest run scorer for India with 269 runs at 134.50 and will look to add to those numbers.
Mushfiqur Rahim (Bangladesh): Bangladesh’s saviour on most occasions will have to do it one more time and especially so in the absence of Iqbal and Shakib. He was seen in some discomfort while keeping against Pakistan, so that injury, if there is one, might also be a factor.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Khaleel Ahmed, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Siddarth Kaul
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Ariful Haque, Mahmudullah, Mosaddek Hossain, Nazmul Hossain, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Nazmul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Hider, Mominul Haque, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes.