Asia Cup seeks more relevance with new format –

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Who are the Asia Cup favourites?

For years, there has been monotony about the Asia Cup. The contest has usually been exclusively between the Test-playing nations with one or two Associate nations being added on occasions to give it a wider appeal. Mostly, it has gone by without creating too much of a ripple. This year will be the Asia Cup’s 13th edition and to keep its relevance, the tournament has gone T20, a format that has usually brought teams closer in contests and is now expected to give everyone a chance in this usually predictable competition.

The changed format was, however, down to its timing and proximity to the World T20. Since it is scheduled to end a few days before that major event, it was felt to be convenient for every team to use it as a warm-up tournament. The conditions in Fatullah and Mirpur would be similar to what most of these teams would face in India during the World T20, and in any case most of these teams don’t really play a lot of T20 internationals, so this would be a proper exercise to gear up ahead of a major tournament.

Given the circumstances, defending champions Sri Lanka would welcome the Asia Cup. They are no longer the team of 2014 when they won both the Asia Cup and World T20 so a lot would now depend on how quickly they can gel and take momentum from this tournament into the World T20. Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Nuwan Kulasekara and Rangana Herath are important players in the team which is mostly youth-focused though Tillakaratne Dilshan would remain the batting leader.

Sri Lanka’s richness in spin-bowling allrounders will be fulfilled by newcomers Milinda Siriwardana and Shehan Jayasuriya and they will also have Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka as pace-bowling allrounders. They will also hope that Dushmantha Chameera will carry his pace and movement from India to Bangladesh.

India, who beat Sri Lanka in the recent T20 series at home, would be the favourites in the tournament although they haven’t made it to the Asia Cup final in the last two editions. This time, they will bank heavily on their top-order batsmen and spinners, and try to get a closer look at allrounder Hardik Pandya and left-arm spinner Pawan Negi while also give game-time to veterans Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh. India will have to ensure that their pace attack and middle order get enough exposure and with it confidence ahead of the World T20.

Hosts Bangladesh have a lot to play for, given their lowly T20 value. This is one format they haven’t cracked mainly because they hardly play T20s even at the domestic level. This time, however, they will be equipped with experience in the BPL and the six T20s against Zimbabwe in November and January. They have some new T20 match-winners in Mahmudullah and Sabbir Rahman but they will be without Tamim Iqbal, who did very well in the PSL, because of paternity leave.

The PSL was also useful for Pakistan to pick their World T20 and Asia Cup squads. The likes of Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Sami will add to Shahid Afridi’s reserve of experienced players like Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Mohammad Amir will remain the team’s biggest attraction after having played the bilateral series against New Zealand, and the BPL and PSL.

The Asia Cup is already a success story for UAE who made it to the main stage by winning all three of the qualifying matches. Rohan Mustafa, Mohammad Naveed, Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Kaleem did well against Oman, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, and this tournament will be their showground in their quest to become a fully professional side. They will also be the only side in the Asia Cup who will not be looking ahead to the World T20.

This edition of the Asia Cup will also be the first under the downsized Asian Cricket Council, who shut down operations in their Kuala Lumpur headquarters last June. They were supposed to become just ACC events but in October last year, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said that the ACC should be revived and as a first step, the Centre of Excellence is being set up in Dharamsala in India.  

A shrunk ACC running a tournament that has historically lacked a major impact might be stretching it but the Asia Cup hopes to remain relevant. Even if this time it is being served as an appetiser before the main course. It will be a similar situation in 2020 while the 2018 event is likely to feature ODIs. This, the first Asia Cup in T20 format, will say a lot about its survival in the consciousness of those watching, and those playing.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

Asia Cup seeks more relevance with new format –}