There will be five teams playing in the 12th edition of the Asia Cup: Defending Champions Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, hosts Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Many will remember the 2012 tournament, where defending Champions India stuttered its way to defeat against Bangladesh but victories against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Kohli was coming of age back then, and the Bangladesh defeat will be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar’s final international century- his 100th, a laborious effort that made sucked the soul out of him after trying to reach the milestone for more than a year. This was after two disastrous overseas tours, bang in between the downfall of India’s golden batting order.
Pakistan won that tournament after breaking several Bangladesh hearts in the final, winning by just 2 runs. Misbah became only the second captain after Moin Khan (2000) to win the Asia Cup for his country. India have won it 5 times, Sri Lanka 4 times.
The 2014 tournament will be held in Bangladesh once again.
Misbah is still the captain, and still in his prime (at almost 40 years of age). He is the rock that holds a volatile team together. Youngsters like Ahmed Shehzad and Bilawal Bhatti will combine with the ageless trio of Afridi (literally), Hafeez and Ajmal to present formidable opposition to the other bowler-light teams.
X-factor: Umar Akmal
Dhoni is out with a mysterious strain, and it will be Kohli leading India for the first time in a major tournament. This will come as relief to many Indian fans baying for the leadership’s blood, but Fletcher remains, and hence, it will be interesting to see India’s top order deal with the absence of their best finisher. Raina is out, as is Yuvraj, while Karthik comes back in. The middle order looks wafer thin, and Rahane will have to carry his test form into the shorter format. The bowling looks weak as usual, unless Shami fires consistently. Ashwin and Jadeja will play crucial roles here.
X-factor: Cheteshwar Pujara
Prediction: Group Stages
Angelo Mathews has created a decent ODI outfit. They will be the team to beat, simply because they have just faced Bangladesh in a series, and have a good idea how to beat other subcontinent teams. A senior team under the leadership of youngsters, it will come down to Sangakkara (form of his life), Jayawardene, Malinga and Mendis.
X-factor: Thisara Perera
Not much is known of this team, but to reach the World T20 as well as their first 50 over World Cup in 2015 is quite an achievement for a bunch of part timers. They have been the fairytale story of international cricket over the last 4 years, and will continue their journey in their first ever Asia Cup tournament. India will do well not to take them lightly, because Sri Lanka are always expected to destroy minnows.
X-factor: Wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad
Prediction: Group Stages
There won’t be many changes from the current team facing Sri Lanka at home. They lost the test series, T20 series and the ODI series, but what will hurt them most is the ban of their best player Shakib- for a lewd gesture (cupping his crotch) after being dismissed in the second ODI. Believe it. They are forever lambs while facing the Lankans, but seem charged up while facing the Indians or Pakistanis- perhaps because they don’t get many opportunities to do so. India will be wary of them in home conditions.
X-factor: Rubel Hossain
Prediction: Group Stage.