India eye return to winning ways

Tough test for skipper Kohli; Lanka take on Pakistan in tournament opener

India eye return to winning ways

Winless for quite a while, a bruised Indian cricket team would seek to rediscover the lost touch in a five-way battle for regional supremacy when the 12th Asia Cup one-day cricket tournament starts on Tuesday.

India were embarrassed in their recent trips to South Africa and New Zealand, failing to win a single match either Tests and ODIs.

And now, India are up for another tough challenge when they square off against arch-rivals Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and debutantes Afghanistan in the sub-continent’s premier ODI event.

Captained by Virat Kohli in the absence of an injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India have been a record five-time Asia Cup champions but can hardly be considered favourites this time around given the way they have faltered in recent months.

The struggles in South Africa and New Zealand have laid bare the team’s bowling frailties and the over-reliance on Kohli in the batting department. The Indians will kick off their campaign on Wednesday with a relatively easy match against hosts Bangladesh here.

But once again, the bestseller of the biennial tournament will be the India-Pakistan marquee match in Mirpur on March 2 when the two traditional foes renew their cricketing rivalry. Pakistan will face Sri Lanka in the tournament-opener here on Tuesday.

Without the finishing ability of Dhoni, it will be interesting to see how the new-look middle-order — comprising Ajinkya Rahane, wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik and Cheteshwar Pujara — performs in the slog overs. After being made the captain as Dhoni’s replacement in a tri-series in the West Indies, Kohli had begun with a loss but since then he has been on a roll with seven straight wins.

That five of the seven wins came against minnows Zimbabwe tells a different story as Kohli will have a completely different challenge this time.

Fourth-ranked Sri Lanka have a chance to displace India from the second spot by winning all their matches, including the final, in the Asia Cup but if India win even one of their matches, they will hold on to their ranking ahead of the April 1 cut-off date.

Fatullah in Narayangonj, a suburban town in south of Dhaka, will host first five league matches before the tournament shifts to Mirpur in Dhaka.

Meanwhile, there is trouble brewing for the hosts after captain Mushfiqur Rahim claimed that he was not consulted for the Asia Cup squad. This year may prove to be drastically different from 2012 for Bangladesh, who finished runners-up in the previous edition.

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