Three things take precedence over most other in India’s Asia Cup campaign this year – MS Dhoni’s absence, Virat Kohli’s captaincy and Cheteshwar Pujara’s return to the ODIs. But topping the list of objectives will be to arrest a slide that began in South Africa and extended to New Zealand before Team India landed in Bangladesh.
Eight games have passed since the ODI champions tasted victory, in fact none in 2014 so far; and less than a year away from the World Cup, it’s a headache that India won’t like to develop into a migraine.
It was all well until the team was playing at home, the majority of 2013 for that matter. The moment India moved out of their comfort zone, things started going haywire – leading to a 2-0 series loss in SA, followed by a 4-0 embarrassment in NZ.
Still out of the country but back in the subcontinent, the team is near its comfort zone if not entirely back in it. The batting friendly tracks at Fatullah and Mirpur in Dhaka will bring back memories of those 350-plus chases against Australia last year – but under a different captain.
Dhoni’s injury layoff brings Kohli a chance to face his biggest captaincy challenge to date that has the backing of a record standing at a staggering seven wins in eight matches as captain. However, five of those victories were credited to Kohli’s account against minnows Zimbabwe, who India whitewashed on their tour of the African nation in 2013.
But the worry on captaincy front is slightly less than as leader of a young batting unit that will not have the cushion of a Dhoni at No. 6, which adds to Kohli’s burden in Bangladesh.
“He [Dhoni] has been a very important player and led the team very well. We have been consistent in one-dayers and one big reason has been his consistency and captaincy. Not having him will be a big change. But I am sure these guys will be eagerly waiting to grab their opportunities,” Kohli said in his first press conference after reaching Bangladesh.
But it will be interesting to see what approach Kohli adopts as captain – whether he goes in with the tried and tested or looks to give the bench-warmers like Amit Mishra a chance.
Also not available will be Suresh Raina, who has been dropped for the tournament. Coming in to replace Raina will be Pujara, and looking at the World Cup in Australia, Indian selectors will hope Pujara does well to add the stability India has lacked in their middle order recently, especially overseas.
Dinesh Karthik has been recalled to replace Dhoni as wicketkeeper batsman, and he will take his place behind the stumps and will bat most likely at No. 6.
There may be a three-way fight for one spot between Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron and Ambati Rayudu, and looking at his ability to bowl seam-up apart from batting usefully, Binny may get the nod.
Like most of the other teams, Bangladesh too are struggling to put their preferred XI together.
The hosts suffered a body blow when their backbone Shakib Al Hasan was banned by the country’s board for making a hand gesture on live television. That means skipper Mushfiqur Rahman will not have his most reliable player to bank upon for the first two games of the Asia Cup.
Also missing the Asia Cup will be Tamim Iqbal, ruled out due to a neck strain. Fitness doubts also hang over veteran pacer Mashrafe Mortaza who didn’t feature regularly in the eleven against Sri Lanka.
An upset win over India in the last edition saw Bangladesh end as runners-up in 2012, and it’s that unpredictable nature that makes them a dangerous side, especially in front of the home crowd.
For the record, India are the most successful team in Asia Cup, having won the tournament five times, but that’s history. The present picture has a gloomy hue to it with winless tours of SA and NZ, and Kohli will want his boys to set the record straight.
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (c), 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Stuart Binny/Ambati Rayudu, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Bangladesh: 1 Anamul Haque, 2 Shamsur Rahman, 3 Mominul Haque, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (c), 5 Naeem Islam, 6 Nasir Hossain, 7 Mashrafe Mortaza, 8 Sohag Gazi, 9 Rubel Hossain/Ziaur Rahman, 10 Arafat Sunny, 11 Abdur Razzak