Asia Cup – Are Pakistan undercooked? India searching for their perfect balance

Asia Cup – Are Pakistan undercooked? India searching for their perfect balance

Are Pakistan undercooked? Will India perfect their balancing act?

With the ODI World Cup looming, our correspondents weigh in on the big questions facing the teams during the Asia Cup

25-Aug-2023 • 23 hrs ago

Rohit on Chahal’s exclusion: ‘Wanted someone who can bat at eight or nine’

Wanted: bowlers who can bat

India are taking 17 players to the Asia Cup – so they are yet to finalise their World Cup 15 – but if the recovery of key personnel has gone well, their squad is now close to full strength. With Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja playing together, India no longer need a batter who can bowl, but their most severe headache is that none of their four first-choice bowlers can hit sixes.

India’s four best specialist bowlers are Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna and Mohammed Siraj, with Mohammed Shami as back-up, which severely limits the risks that the top seven can take. This issue has necessitated the inclusion of Shardul Thakur and Axar Patel, one of whom will most likely play as the No. 8 depending on conditions and opposition.

Still, in a big match in the Asia Cup, India must try to see how the batters react to playing with four No. 11s, who in turn become a potent threat with the ball.

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Are Pakistan undercooked?

Simply put, Pakistan are short on game time. They have arguably never gone into an ODI World Cup as undercooked as they are right now. Since the end of the 2019 World Cup, Pakistan have played just 28 ODIs, a little more than the 25 they played between the 1979 and 1983 World Cups. The quality of opposition they have faced was also not great. Six of Pakistan’s ODIs were against teams who failed to qualify for the tournament in India, with a further three against Netherlands.

By the time the Asia Cup begins, they will have played another three matches against Afghanistan, but so far their only ODI cricket this year has been eight matches against New Zealand, who were significantly depleted for the last five of those games. While Pakistan have beaten most teams with relative ease, winning 19 of those 28 matches, their ability to step up against higher-quality oppositions will be scrutinised.

By Danyal Rasool

Pakistan haven’t played many ODIs against high-quality teams since the previous World CupAFP/Getty Images

Can Afghanistan convert potential into progress?

Afghanistan have the quality to challenge every team in this Asia Cup, but is it accompanied by a resolute mentality? Despite the turmoil in the country over the past couple of years, Afghanistan’s cricket team has seen steady, incremental improvement, and they appear to come into each series and tournament stronger than the last.

They have globetrotting T20 stars Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, as well as the steadying influences of Mohammad Nabi and Hashmatullah Shahidi that should serve them well in 50-overs cricket. But defeats in several previous Asia Cup campaigns – especially against Pakistan in 2022 when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – are bound to leave scars. A T20I series win over Pakistan in March – even though it was against a second-string side – should help, and three ODIs against the same opposition in the week before the tournament begins will offer match practice. How they perform there and whether they can put together an Asia Cup run that truly reflects the progress they have made should be a point of intrigue leading into the ODI World Cup.

By Danyal Rasool

Should Bangladesh play seven batters or eight?

With two allrounders in their XI in Shakib Al Hasan and Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Bangladesh have the option of playing an extra specialist batter or bowler. Former captain Tamim Iqbal believes the extra bowler gives their attack security, but an eighth batter could mean precious extra runs.

Bangladesh have lately tended to play the extra batter, and it brought them stunning results when Mehidy made match-winning contributions from No. 8 – 38* and 100* – in successive ODIs against India last December. The same combination, however, featured in series defeats to England and Afghanistan, so there is still scepticism over whether the extra batter is the right way to go.

One school of thought is that playing one fewer specialist batter will place more responsibility on the top seven and more trust in Mehidy’s improved batting. It’s still not clear which way Bangladesh will go at the World Cup, and results during the Asia Cup may well dictate their choice.

By Mohammad Isam

Afghanistan have been impressive in bilateral series, but are yet to produce a stirring performance in a global tournamentAFP/Getty Images

Can Sri Lanka’s batters pull their weight?

Twice this year, across two continents, Sri Lanka have been all out for less than 80 in ODIs. They have passed 300 four times, but one of those occasions was after India had amassed 373 for 7 on the same Guwahati pitch.

At the World Cup Qualifier, facing – on average – significantly worse opposition than they are expected to come across at the Asia Cup and the World Cup, they were restricted to 245 all out by Scotland, then 213 all out and 233 all out by Netherlands. Sure, Sri Lanka went on to defend all those scores. But that was only because their varied attack bailed the batting out.

Perhaps there is an argument that in the 21st century, at least, Sri Lanka have relied more on their bowling to get them deep into major tournaments than their batting. Their run to five global tournament finals between 2007 and 2014 was driven largely by the likes of Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Muthiah Muralidaran, Ajantha Mendis and, later, Rangana Herath.

But their batting lacks top-order dynamism, has little heft through the middle (save for Charith Asalanka at No. 5, perhaps), and when Dasun Shanaka fails, as he often has in the last few months, they cannot finish strong.

Against batting orders such as India’s, Pakistan’s, and Bangladesh’s, good bowling may not be able to perform major rescue operations.

By Andrew Fidel Fernando

AfghanistanNepalBangladeshSri LankaPakistanIndiaAsia Cup

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