MIRPUR - Desperate to restore their battered reputation after the recent debacle in Australia, title holders India would be hoping for a positive start to their campaign in the Asia Cup when they take on Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
The Asia Cup will provide India a chance to make amends for their dismal performance in the tri-series in Australia where they won just three out of eight matches.
After having flopped in two consecutive overseas tours in England and then Australia, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni knows the importance of a good start that will hold them in good stead in the regional tournament. “Over the years the format has changed in the sense now there are four good sides. It is a very short series, and it is very important to start with a positive note because it’s not very often that you play in a tournament where all the Asian countries are playing together,” Dhoni said.
India are coming into the tournament with just a few changes in the squad that played in Australia with hard-hitting batsman Yusuf Pathan and pacer Ashok Dinda drafted into side, while Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have been ‘rested’ due to injuries.
The Asia Cup is also an ideal platform for Sachin Tendulkar to record his much-awaited 100th international ton after having missed the feat in the Test series against Australia and the subsequent triseries.
The tournament will also provide another opportunity to young players like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja to prove their worth after producing a below-par performance in tough Australian conditions.
Young Virat Kohli, on the other hand, will be oozing with confidence following his impressive showing in Australia, which earned him the post of vice-captain in Sehwag’s absence.
But looking at India’s inconsistent showing in Australia, Dhoni has a lot to ponder ahead of his side’s tournament opener against Sri Lanka at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium.
“It’s not that we have done really badly. Of course, we had a patch where we have not done consistently well. Especially when it comes to the ODI format, I think we have done quite well. So we are hoping that we will stick to it and be consistent throughout the tournament,” Dhoni said.
The series will also see a keen contest between Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan for the lone all-rounder’s spot in the playing eleven.
“Unfortunately he’s (Virender Sehwag) not there. We will miss him, he is one of the most dangerous openers. But this means we have one space in the playing eleven right now. It may go to somebody like Yusuf Pathan so that we can balance the flair and the firepower and the stability that’s needed.
“I think it’s an opportunity for someone like a Yusuf or a Ravindra Jadeja to do well and grab that number six position,” Dhoni said. On the bowling front, India boasts of a relatively young pace attack in R Vinay Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan, while the spin department will be led by Ravichandran Ashwin and will have leg-spinner Rahul Sharma for company.
On paper there is nothing much to differentiate between the two sides, but going by present form Sri Lanka undoubtedly hold an edge over the Indians. Sri Lanka have been a resurgent side this year.
They narrowly lost the five-match series in South Africa 2-3 early this year and reached the finals of the just-concluded triseries in Australia, only to lose it but not before giving a tough fight to the home team. But the Sri Lankans have come here as a tired side after the long triseries in Australia, where they played five matches in the last 10 days. “The intensity (of the CB series) was really high because we were performing at a very high level. Even though we lost the finals I thought the commitment of the players and the energy level was very good,” Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said.
“International cricket is such now, you need to adapt very quickly mentally and physically to the schedules that we have,” he said. If the islanders wish to win their fifth Asia Cup title, they will have to rejuvenate themselves in no time as one bad day in office can hurt their cause.
INDIA: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Rahul Sharma, R Vinay Kumar.
SRI LANKA: Mahela Jayawardene (Capt.), Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Kumar Sangakkara, Sachithra Senanayake, Upul Tharanga, Lahiru Thirimanne.