India will be aiming to reassert their continental supremacy while an injury-hit Bangladesh will hope to shrug off stage fright when it matters the most as the two sides square off in the grand finale of the Asia Cup in Dubai on Friday.
A passionate Bangladesh turned out to be the party-poopers on Wednesday as they wrecked the prospects of an India-Pakistan summit clash with a gutsy performance despite losing key players to injury.
On paper, India remain overwhelming favourites to win the tournament for a record seventh time but Bangladesh won’t be pushovers. The Tigers will be hoping to be third-time lucky in a summit clash.
The final of a tournament can often turn out be a one-off game in complete isolation from how a team has performed previously. Form book goes out the window. Even the most consistent teams have slipped on the proverbial banana peel when it has mattered the most. Remember India in the Champions Trophy final in 2017?
Add to this the fact that the Indo-Bangla cricketing rivalry has grown in intensity, ever since the controversy-ridden quarter-final at the 2015 World Cup.
What could, possibly, prevent an even clash is the fact that Bangladesh head into the final with plenty of injury woes. Star batsman Tamim Iqbal is already out with a fractured hand and Bangladesh will also not have premier all-rounder Shakib-Al-Hasan in the line-up owing to a finger injury. He is expected to undergo surgery which will also force him out of the home series against Zimbabwe starting September 30.
For India, it will be a different test though.
A victory in the Asia Cup without their skipper and best batsman Virat Kohli will be a big statement going into next year’s World Cup. The team’s exploits in shorter formats have always successfully papered over the deficiencies when it comes to playing quality five-day cricket in adverse conditions.
An Asia Cup triumph can, perhaps, partially divert attention from the England debacle.
After resting five regulars during a wake-up call from Afghanistan in their tied Super Four encounter, order is expected to be restored in the summit clash. The crack opening pair of skipper Rohit Sharma and his deputy Shikhar Dhawan will be back at the top of the order while Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal will bolster the bowling.
The Bangladesh bowling attack is one of the most potent in 50 over cricket with Mustafizur Rahaman, Rubel Hossain, and Mashrafe Mortaza ready to test batting line-ups.
Here’s a look at three key battles that could decide the final.
Rohit vs Mustafizur
While not having Shakib in the line-up could prove to be a major setback for the side, Mustafizur has a lot of tricks up his sleeve while Mashrafe’s experience comes in handy. But it’s the left-armer who will pose the most significant threat for Indian openers.
For India, a lot will depend on the start provided by Rohit (269 runs) and Dhawan (327 runs) but the former, in the past, has had troubles against the angle created by left-arm seamers in general, and Mustafizur, in particular. While during the tournament so far Rohit has shown good technique — Sunil Gavaskar observed how he has opened up his stance a bit — the odd ball has troubled him. Mohammad Amir induced a few edges in the first game while in the second, he almost had Rohit caught at short point, while Shaheen Afridi had a sitter dropped off his bowling in the cover region.
Mustafizur, for his part, has improved as the tournament has progressed and looked at his sharpest in the game against Pakistan. He had the ball nipping and bouncing awkwardly early on, and produced two wickets, including a peach to Babar Azam that Rohit would want to study carefully.
This might well be the must-win battle within the battle for Bangladesh if they should stand a chance.
Mushfiqur vs Kuldeep
Bangladesh will bank heavily on the ever-dependable Mushfiqur Rahim, who has been the ‘crisis man’ along with the stylish Mahmudullah Riyadh. Tackling the guile of Kuldeep Yadav, deception of Yuzvendra Chahal and probing questions from Ravindra Jadeja will be quite a task for the Bangladesh line-up.
But, to narrow it down, it will boil down to how Rahim deals with the wrist spinners of the Indian line-up, especially Kuldeep. While Jadeja and Chahal will challenge the Bangladeshi stalwart by turning the ball away from him and making it difficult to play the sweep shot, Kuldeep simply inspires more dread among batsmen with his variety. Even good players of spin choose to play him out these days, and as Pakistan’s Azam showed, don’t succeed. Even in all-guns-blazing knock, Mohammad Shahzad dared not to attack Kuldeep. Will the in-form Rahim change that playbook? Bangladesh would be praying he can.
Indian middle order vs Mehidy Hasan
Mehidy Hasan will have his say in two important battles in the final. As someone who bowls regularly in the first powerplay, skipper Mashrafe Mortaza would be hoping his main spinner would trouble Dhawan. The Indian opener, the top run-scorer of the tournament, does have a weakness against spin early on in his innings and given Mehidy’s crucial showing in the Pakistan game, this will be a contest to watch out for.
But the real battle might be in the middle overs where India’s middle order has looked shaky again.
Ambati Rayudu has looked set in all the games but has not translated that to big scores while Kedar Jadhav and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have struggled for rhythm. And in that middle muddle, Dhoni’s struggle is the biggest worry as a total of 240 plus could prove to be challenging on a slow track if the team bats second and loses an early wicket or two.
The only match where the Indian middle order was tested was the Afghanistan game where a combination of bad luck and poor decision-making saw them failing to overhaul a target of 253 despite a century opening stand by the makeshift pair of KL Rahul and Rayudu. And that’s why a significant batting contribution from Dhoni will be vital as he might again come in at No 4 or No 5 in order to face more deliveries.
And with Bangladesh missing a front-line spinner to accompany Mehidy, the young all-rounder will be needed in the middle overs more than he would be in the powerplay. Along with Mahmudullah, if he could cause more confusion in that Indian middle order, Bangladesh’s chances might just be more than decent.
(With PTI inputs)