Amidst the ongoing Test series against England which has sprung into life after India’s win at Trent Bridge, cricket fans in the country are also gearing up to watch their favourite stars in action in limited-overs cricket when the Asia Cup begins on September 15th. This will be the 14th edition of the highly coveted tournament and will be played in the United Arab Emirates, with defending champions India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh already confirmed as five participants. A sixth will join in after going through a rigorous qualification tournament in Malaysia.
While the last edition was played in a T20 format, Asia Cup will go back to the traditional 50-over format this year and the participating nations will be looking to use it as a platform to fine tune their squads ahead of the ICC ODI World Cup in England next year.
Defending champions India will their group stage fixtures against arch-rivals Pakistan and a team which is yet to be finalised. Virat Kohli’s side will fancy its chances of doing well and ultimately winning the tournament once again.
However, things are likely to be less than rosy for Team India and they might find it difficult to defend the title owing to a variety of factors. Here are 4 reasons explaining why India will not be able to win Asia Cup 2018 in UAE:
1. Second-string side on show
India have been in England for more than two months now and players like skipper Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya will certainly be jaded and looking for a rest once they return from the long sojourn. There has been constant speculation that the MSK Prasad-led selection committee will pick a second string side for the Asia Cup and hand a chance to fringe players such as Krunal Pandya, Ambati Rayudu, Mohammad Siraj and Prithvi Shaw.
The players in question here are wonderful players in their own right and a testament to India’s bench strength but might find it difficult to cope up with high pressure situations, particularly against neighbours Pakistan.
2. Pakistan’s familiarity with conditions in UAE
With no cricket being played in their own country, UAE has emerged as the ‘home’ for Pakistan over the past decade or so. Even their domestic T20 league, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is played in the Middle East and the majority of their players know the conditions on offer there like the back of their hands.
On the other hand, the Indian team has hardly played any cricket in the UAE in recent times. The situation is completely in contrast to the time when India were regular visitors to Sharjah in the ’90s, including the famous Coca Cola Cup in 1998 where Sachin Tendulkar famously went berserk in the middle of a storm.
Not that India will face any real difficulties to adjust to the slowish pitches on offer in the tournament, just that Pakistan are much more accustomed to playing there and will feel at home in the UAE.
3. Unsettled middle-order
Other than Virat Kohli and perhaps MS Dhoni, no other player has been able to cement a place in India’s middle-order. To be precise, it is the Number 4 slot which is a major area of concern for Team India leading up to the World Cup next year. As many as 11 different batsmen have been tried in the position in last 3 years but the position remains up for grabs.
Manish Pandey has been in great form while captaining the India B side to the Quadrangular title and is likely to be entrusted with the chance to cement his place in the side when the Asia Cup comes around. Former captain Dhoni could be yet another candidate for the Number 4 slot, particularly if Kohli is rested for the tournament. Whoever gets the nod will have to bat well if India are to retain their title in UAE.
4. Question marks over Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s fitness
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has well and truly established himself as the leader of India’s bowling attack in white-ball cricket. With Jasprit Bumrah as an able ally, Bhuvi has mastered the art of making early breakthroughs and follows it up with pinpoint accuracy in the death overs. The 28-year-old has struggled with injuries in recent months and has been a big miss for Virat Kohli’s side in England’s swinging conditions.
The BCCI has now declared him fully fit to play and Bhuvi even played a game in the Quadrangular Series for India A but his match fitness will be fully tested when he returns to lead India’s attack in the Asia Cup on UAE’s docile pitches. With Bumrah also being out of ODI action for a couple of months, Bhuvi will be India’s main man with the ball but there will be genuine question marks on his fitness which will go a long way in deciding whether India can win the title or not.
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