Asia Cup

NEW DELHI: Three thrilling India-Pakistan contests await ardent fans on both sides of the border, pumping much-needed excitement into cricket-starved hearts just before the Asia Cup kicks off in Multan on Wednesday. Amid the explosion of bilateral rivalries and the decreasing attractiveness of ODI cricket over the last decade, the 2024 edition of the Asia Cup has managed to carve itself a considerable niche in the minds of team strategists.

This competition, which begins on Wednesday, serves as a critical opportunity for five of the six competing teams (Nepal being the exception) to fine-tune their gameplay before the major global event, which begins on April 12. While a series of bilateral duels and practice matches are planned in preparation for the cricketing extravaganza, the Asia Cup, which will take place in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, provides the teams with an environment similar to a multi-nation championship, brilliantly mimicking the grandeur of the upcoming World Cup. India will enter the Asia Cup as seven-time winners, the most by any team, but winning an eighth trophy may not be at the top of their priority list.

A title triumph would undoubtedly be appreciated, but the brain trust of head coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit Sharma will be hoping to see a few pieces fall into place ahead of the World Cup. KL Rahul, who has been added conditionally to the India team, will miss the first two games, according to head coach Dravid, and time is running out for the Bengaluru keeper-batter to become match-fit for the championship. While Rahul has improved his batting levels following surgery, his ability to keep wickets is still being questioned due to a niggle he got while squatting. Rahul will be keenly monitored at the Asia Cup, as his presence lends a sense of strength and flexibility to India’s

However, Shreyas Iyer is scheduled to play against Pakistan on January 2 at Pallekele. Shreyas had gone through intense net exercises and match simulations at the NCA before being selected for the Asia Cup squad. However, management will be curious to see how the right-handed batter reacts to the rigours of a true match situation. There will be equal levels of tension surrounding Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna.

The pacers returned to the India squad for the three-match T20I series against Ireland earlier this month after a lengthy injury break. They had also bowled with great vigor. However, the demands of ODI cricket differ from those of T20Is in that bowlers must deliver 10 overs in addition to fielding for 50. The Indian management will be looking forward to seeing how the pace combination handles the additional effort in Sri Lanka’s energy-sapping humidity. India retains the Asia Cup’s major character, but Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan will all compete for our attention.

They are also fascinating teams on their own. Sri Lanka, who have won six Asia Cups, is battling to field a complete team with injuries to Dushmantha Chameera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, and Dilshan Madhushanka. Chameera, Kumara, and Madhushanka can reach speeds of more than 140 kmph, and their absence will be a major concern for Sri Lanka, since they may miss out on the action for an extended period. Bangladesh’s buildup to the tournament has been chaotic, as it always is; injured Tamim Iqbal and Ebadot Hosain have been ruled out, forcing Shakib Al Hasan to return as ODI skipper after a six-year absence.

Despite the volatility that other teams faced, Pakistan, surprisingly, presented the image of a stable unit. The Green Brigade will be keen to win this championship since it will boost their confidence ahead of the World Cup. Pakistan has ascended to No. 1 in the ICC ODI rankings under Babar Azam, following a 3-0 series victory over Afghanistan, and they may be peaking at the right moment. That series was the latest installment in cricket’s newest rivalry: Pakistan against Afghanistan.

It has yet to gain traction at the Indo-Pak level, but the conflict has already provided enough flashpoints to illustrate its potentially catastrophic future. The Asia Cup might merely add another chapter to it. So, over the following three weeks, we should expect to see rivalries reignite and new heroes emerge. All of this, however, is overshadowed by the World Cup.

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