India start with Bangla test

Cricket Asia Cup : Dhoni doubtful for opening match as former champs look to regain crown

India start with Bangla test

Almost a decade ago Twenty20 was viewed no more than a hit and giggle format. Then, the maiden Twenty20 World Cup was staged in 2007 and cricket’s metamorphosis became irreversible. So much so that ahead of another World T20 in March, the long-running 50-over Asia Cup has been squeezed into a Twenty20 version this time.

The thrill and theatrics of slam-bang cricket has found an astonishing appeal in the sub-continent, whose cricketing appetite would be further whetted on Wednesday when India and Bangladesh clash in the tournament opener at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium.

Following their controversial 2015 World Cup quarterfinal match-up, India have developed a rivalry with Bangladesh who have successfully shed the tag of minnows in the shorter formats in the last couple of years. They, though, are still in search of sporting icons and find their anchor in the passionate following of cricket. That Bangladeshis take their cricket seriously is evident from the banners and cutouts that greet you on sidelines of a burdened infrastructure or the crowd of curious spectators, regardless of the age, thronging the gates of the stadium.

To the joy of fans, Bangladesh were unbeaten at home last year in the 50-over format. India and South Africa both had to return with bruised egos. Bangladesh, though, have played only four T20 matches this year against lowly Zimbabwe that ended 2-2. They still have a lot to look forward to. Their young and vibrant pace attack has been a talking point in cricketing circles, especially the 20-year-old Mustafizur Rahman, who made India dance with his uncanny ability with the old ball. Taskin Ahmed and newcomer Abu Hider would be eager to match-up to their new found reputation.

Not to forget the wily left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan, whose variations in pace and flight make him lethal in these conditions. The side has flourished under the inspirational leadership of Mashrafe Mortaza who owns skills with both bat and ball. The batting has exciting prospects in Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir Rahman coupled with the experience of Mahmudullah. 

Unlike Bangladesh, India have tucked in significant exposure in Twenty20 beginning with the home visit of South Africa last year. They followed it up with the triumph Down Under and against Sri Lanka at home. Indians anyway are never short of the dose of Twenty20 format thanks to the Indian Premier League. It was more about finding the right line-up and their recent T20 outings have given them just that.

However, Asia Cup, also featuring former World Cup champions in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who have warmed up for the tournament with the Pakistan Super League, puts out a tougher challenge. UAE have qualified to be the fifth participating team this year.

At the moment, the biggest headache for India is around the fitness of their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who complained of back spasm on Monday. Dhoni didn’t train on Tuesday but was present at the nets chatting with the physio. His replacement Parthiv Patel arrived on Tuesday morning but didn’t train. The strong Indian batting, likely to undergo a shuffle if Patel plays, has also been bolstered with the return of Virat Kohli who has emerged the most successful T20 batsman for his country, boasting an average of 50.62.

Indian bowling, too, has a more settled look, despite losing Mohammad Shami to injury. India have found a young talent in Jasprit Bumrah whose ability to dish out perfect yorkers at death has allowed Dhoni to use his most reliable bowler Ravichandran Ashwin to attack. Not to forget Ashish Nehra who has been producing match-winning stuff even at 36. India, though, would be looking to try out more options, with the likes of Pawan Negi yet to be tested and Yuvraj Singh still awaiting his moment to plunder runs. With their deep batting and new-found bowling combination, India certainly carry the favourites tag. But then the enigma called Twenty20 never lets you predict anything!

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