Asia Cup Preview: Afghanistan to Surprise in Group A?
By Aman Huda
After four years of waiting, the ODI Asia Cup is returning, this time with six of Asia’s best sides. The five ICC full members, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and newly joined Afghanistan, join Hong Kong, who beat the UAE in the qualifiers in Malaysia a few days back. The tournament, originally supposed to have been held in India, was changed to be hosted in the UAE, as a neutral venue. During ongoing disputes between the Pakistani Cricket Board and the Board of Cricket Control of India, the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Zayed Al Nahyan, requested that the tournament be moved to the UAE in order to ensure Pakistan’s participation.
Along with off-the-field troubles, Pakistan and India have a rivaling history on the field too. India will be looking for revenge for the 2017 Champions Trophy Final, in which Pakistan, as non-favorites, defeated India by 180 runs. However, despite being a technically neutral venue, Pakistan do have the best record and the most experience in playing in UAE conditions. Perhaps this time around, Pakistan will be favorites. Another advantage Pakistan will have over India is India’s Captain, Virat Kohli, being rested. This makes a large gap in the Indian batting line-up. However, the other experienced Indian batsmen are capable of dismantling Pakistan.
The Asia Cup kicks off on Saturday, September 15 in Dubai, with Bangladesh taking on Sri Lanka in Group A. The two will be accompanied by Afghanistan in their group.
Group A Predictions:
Relatively new to the competition, Afghanistan has not failed to impress. They come to the UAE off of a series win against Ireland in Ireland, with their strength being the bowling attack. Afghanistan has two key spinners who could threaten on the UAE pitches, the spinners being no. 1 ranked Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Both are under the age of 20, Khan being 19 and Rahman being 17, but they’ve come to dominate international cricket and it seems that no side in the world can stop them right now.
Although unlike their neighbors Pakistan, Afghanistan has more power hitters, batsmen who are more likely to hit boundaries but tend to get out earlier. This can be an advantage in setting up high scores on batting-friendly UAE surfaces, but the batting line is known to be unpredictable. In their three-match series against the Irish, the batting line-up recorded low scores of 227-9 and 182-9 in the first two ODIs, and if it wasn’t for the bowlers’ excellent performances, Afghanistan was likely to lose that series.
Despite the unpredictability, the batsmen should receive help from the batsmen-friendly conditions in the UAE and the bowlers have shown no sign of failure. Along with riding on confidence, the other two teams in their group, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka won’t be as confident since Bangladesh has fitness issues and Sri Lanka’s away record has been far from impressive. For this reason, I’m picking Afghanistan, even though they are the most inexperienced in their group, not just to advance from the group stages, but to also top the group.
Going into round two, the Super Four round, it’ll be extremely tough for Afghanistan, having to come up against the likes of India, Pakistan, or possibly Hong Kong. I predict Afghanistan’s journey will end here after putting up an excellent display in the group stages.
Prediction: Afghanistan to top Group A and finish last in the Super Four group.
Bangladesh’s scenario is a bit tricky here. They’re up against two really competitive teams in their group, but in the last few years their ODI performance has been very impressive on the world stage. In the 2015 Cricket World Cup, they knocked England out of the group stage to win themselves a quarter-final spot. In the 2017 Champions Trophy, they knocked New Zealand out of the group stages to grab a place in the semi-finals.
The biggest advantage Bangladesh will have in this tournament is their pace bowlers, Rubel Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman. Mustafizur Rahman, especially, is the pick of the bowlers and could even be the best pace bowler in this tournament.
Bangladesh, usually known for their batting line-up, will have a certain level of unpredictability this time around. There have been problems regarding the captain, Shakib Al-Hasan’s fitness as he himself doesn’t feel confident to take part in the tournament. Losing the world’s no. 1 ranked all-rounder could be a big blow to the Tigers, but they still have an all-round excellent team, especially with Tamim Iqbal batting up top.
At the stage at which Bangladesh is performing lately, it would be easy to bet upon them making it out of the group stage and they could use their talent to top the group, ahead of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, due to Sri Lanka’s poor form, Bangladesh’s somewhat uncertainty, and Afghanistan’s rise to dominance, I back Bangladesh to advance from the group stages, but not to top the group.
Prediction: Bangladesh to finish second in Group A and to come third in the Super Four.
3. Sri Lanka
If the tournament was in Sri Lanka, I’d back Sri Lanka to make it into the finals. However, it’s not. In fact, the last time Sri Lanka were in the UAE, they lost 5-0 to Pakistan. Since then, things haven’t looked any better. Test captain Dinesh Chandimal is out of the side with a finger injury, but he is replaced by wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella. Angelo Mathews seems to pick up captaincy yet again for resigning and being removed as captain multiple times. Also, this Sri Lankan side doesn’t possess any note-worthy bowlers since Lasith Malinga is well past his prime and their spinners generally turn out to be flops (in the ODI format at least). To add more to the woes, all-rounder Akila Dananjaya is set to miss Sri Lanka’s group stage matches as he is awaiting the birth of a child.
Sri Lanka’s competition looks well organized and has managed to perform well abroad. Sri Lanka will need really excellent batting to stand a chance against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but with batsmen missing and bowlers being unreliable, we can’t expect much from the Lions.
Prediction: Sri Lanka to finish last in Group A.