Six teams from Asia are going to wrestle for the coveted trophy.
by Bilal Ahsan Dar
The T20I Asia Cup 2022 begins on August 27 in the United Arab Emirates with Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) serving as the hosts. The grand finale is scheduled to take place on September 11.The highlight of the tournament would be the August 28 marquee duel between India and Pakistan. If the two sides don’t meet again in the finals, that is.
Five teams, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are direct qualifiers for the main event. For the sixth slot, a qualifier tournament is scheduled from 20 – 26 August. Teams from UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuwait are competing for the lone spot.
The teams have been divided into two groups of three each. India and Pakistan will be joined by the qualifying team in Group A. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are comprising Group B.
Pakistan and India are, of course, the favorites to lift the trophy. However, one can never write off the gritty Sri Lanka, which is a five-time Asia Cup winner. Afghanistan and Bangladesh are the dark horses.
The world no.1 T20I team India are also the defending champions and head into the tournament as the most successful side, having won the title seven times.
Blessed with great batting depth, sometimes it becomes difficult for the selectors to decide who to pick and who to drop. A change in guard after the T20I world cup last year saw Rohit Sharma replace Virat Kohli as the captain. The team has shown exceptional results under him. The formula is to go bang-bang from the word go and never let the strike rate plummet even if wickets keep falling. The captain himself takes the charge and players like KL Rahul, Surya Kumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishab Pant and Hardik Pandya are pretty capable of carrying on the the momentum from ball one. It’s a pretty formidable lineup with Jadeja coming in at 7 or 8 and fully capable of clearing the fence regularly. Despite Jasprit Bumrah’s absence due to injury, the bowling department looks good. Bhuvneshwar Kumar leads the attack and is well supported by some impressive youngsters like Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan. Spin department is well established. Chahal, Jadeja have plenty of experience under their belt and capable of using the UAE conditions very well.
The return of KL Rahul to the team is a big boost, though Kohli’s form is still an issue.
Pakistan has been playing some really good cricket in recent times. This team has remained pretty consistent in contrast to Pakistan’s long-held ‘unpredictable’ tag. Led by the impressive Babar Azam, this team played remarkably well in the T20I world cup last year. The team looks very balanced and some exciting young players alongside the likes of Babar, Rizwan, and Fakhar make them a hard side to beat. However the absence of the likes of Hafeez and Malik makes the middle order look a bit vulnerable. It would be interesting to see how the likes of Khushdil Shah, Asif Ali and Agha Salman who have been impressive so far in their short careers do in the high octane games. Allrounders like Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz give the team a balance and options. Bowling has always been Pakistan’s strength and this time too bowling department looked very solid and without any apparent weak links. However at the eleventh hour, Pakistan suffered a major setback, when Shaheen Shah Afridi was ruled out of the tournament because of a thigh injury. Which means Haris Rauf is the pack leader now, with support from young Naseem Shah and Mohammad Wasim. The trio still makes up a formidable pace force.
Pakistan has an advantage of playing in the UAE conditions more than any other side in the tournament for having had this venue as their home ground for many years in recent times; however one minus factor is, they haven’t played that much of T20I cricket after the T20I world cup last year. One might feel their preparation isn’t as up to the mark as that of the other teams.
To summarize, the team has a strong bowling attack and a couple of spinners in Shadab and Nawaz. However, in batting, they will heavily rely on the top three: Babar, Rizwan and Fakhar. Middle order is bit fragile and inexperienced. The overall balance of the team is very good, making them strong contenders to win the tournament, despite Afridi’s absence.
The five-time Asia Cup winners and the second most successful side behind India, Sri Lanka are going through a transitional phase. They have time and again showcased their incredible fighting spirit in desperate times and possess some world-class players in their ranks who can trouble the best of the sides on their day.
The team might appear an inexperienced side on paper, but some of the young players have already made a mark at the highest level. Pathum Nissanka and Danushka Gunathilaka will open the innings. Nissanka has been their in-form player throughout 2022 in the shortest format. He has scored 326 runs in 11 T20Is played so far. He, along with Gunathilaka, will be crucial for Sri Lanka as they will be tasked to provide them with quick-fire starts. Both the openers are in good touch. At 3, Kusal Mendis perfect for Sri Lanka. Mendis has been in great touch. Asalanka at. 4 is known for his power-hitting ability, especially in the last 5 overs. He has been Sri Lanka’s 3rd highest run-getter in T20Is this year so far. At 6 and 7, Sri Lanka has got two young and rising all-rounders. Captain Dasun Shanaka walks in at 6. Shanka, after becoming captain in the white ball formats, has been impressive. From the number 6 position, Shanaka has managed to score 300 plus runs this year in T20Is. He has got the highest batting average among all the Lankan batsmen, scoring at a very high average of 44 this year.
Sri Lanka has always been blessed with some incredibly talented spinners and Maheesh Theekshana is the continuation of that legacy. Chamika Karunaratne will be responsible for leading the pace attack alongside Dushmantha Chameera. Chameera is a lanky fast bowler who can bowl quick, touching 140, and has an effective yorker as well.
The team is young and exciting, but the lack of experience in all the departments can hamper the performance in crunch games.
At the moment, one of the emerging cricketing nations is Afghanistan. It goes without saying that they are eager to establish themselves as a formidable side. In major cricket leagues around the world, a number of Afghan players are steadily developing themselves. Majority of them have already achieved elite cricket status. Players like Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb-ur- Rehman, Najeebullah Zadran and others can win a T20 game on individual brilliance. The team can easily go to the super-four stage and from there on surprise any team on their day. Afghanistan’s batting is decent for a T20 format; they play aggressively and have some clean hitters in the side. Zazai should be expected to give them an aggressive start in the powerplay with opening partner Gurbaz. Spin bowling with Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi is their strength and probably the best spin attack of all teams in the tournament. With UAE normally a spin-friendly venue, one should not be surprised to see Afghanistan doing pretty well in the tournament.
After the recent disgraceful performance against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh cricket doesn’t look in good shape. To set the things in order, BCB announced some serious changes. Shakibul Hassan, despite having some disciplinary issue recently but also being the best player in the side, leads Bangladesh. The Asia Cup squad also marks the return of Mushfiqur Rahim, Sabbir Rahman, Ebadat Hossain and Mohammad Saifuddin. Litton Das misses out due to injury.
Senior Pros like Shakibul Hassan and Mushfiqur Rahim will again be the trump cards. It is also reported that Rahim is set to assume the role of an opener, probably because of the absence of Litton Das and since Bangladesh play their league matches against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, who normally open their bowling with a spinner and Rahim being the best player of spin in the team is to counter the impact. Players like Mahmadullah and Sabbir Rehman will also need to rise to the occasion. In the bowling department Bangladesh has Mustafiz leading the fast bowling attack. Known for his effective off cutters and slower deliveries, he will be supported by the experienced Saifudin and Taskin Ahmad. Like any other subcontinent side, Bangladesh also has some quality spin bowlers in Mehdi Hassan Miraz and the captain himself. Allrounders like Afif hussain and Mehmadullah give team a depth in both batting as well as bowling departments.
To sum up, the team looks pretty balanced and with change in the guard one would expect Bangladesh to come out of the disappointment of Zimbabwe.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.