It’s the final of the Asia Cup and as expected, defending champions India have had no issues waltzing into the tournament decider.
Surprisingly, the team they take on in the final is still considered a ‘surprise package’. Even though this is Bangladesh’s third final appearance in the tournament in the past four editions, the Tigers are still considered fourth in the pecking order in the continent. So, for them to leapfrog Pakistan and Sri Lanka, that too in the absence of two of their biggest stars — Tamim Iqbal (fractured wrist in the opening match against Sri Lanka) and Shakib Al Hasan (finger injury) — is commendable.
To be able to win their first big international tournament, it will be as much a leap of faith for Bangladesh as it would be a test of their skills.
Ahead of the final today at Dubai International Stadium, we look at the key battles that are likely to tilt the scales in this encounter.
Rohit Sharma vs Mashrafe Mortaza
The fact that both the teams have reached the final suggests so, and it was also very evident on the field, that India’s Rohit Sharma and Bangladesh’s Mashrafe Mortaza are the two best captains in the tournament.
Mortaza has been outstanding for several reasons, the main one being how well he has marshalled his limited resources. Losing two of your proven match-winners can be a body blow for any team, but the Bangladesh captain seems to have used the absence of Iqbal and Shakib as a rallying point for his troops.
On the other hand, Sharma has faced a problem of plenty. His fast bowlers, Bhuveshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, have been outstanding and he will have the luxury of falling back upon the impressive left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed. His spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, have been terrific, but so has been his third option in the flattish off-spin of Kedhar Yadav and left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja. His openers — Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit himself — have been on song, but when they were rested in the last match against Afghanistan, KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu also put up a century stand.
Clearly, both the captains have also matured a lot. Mortaza has always been inspirational, but his hot-headedness did land his side in trouble several times in the past. The Mortaza in the UAE has managed to keep a lid on most situations. Sharma was always a calm and composed individual, and perhaps the high-pressured job of leading Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has helped him pack some more ice in his veins.
It will now be interesting to watch who wins the final battle of wits.
Sharma and Dhawan have simply been unrelenting in this tournament so far and have been as big a problem for the opposition as the opening bowling pairing of Kumar and Bumrah.
In the four matches that they have played together, the only ‘failure’ for the Indian openers was a 45-run stand in the opening match against Hong Kong. Thereafter, they put on 86, 61 and a rousing 210 against Pakistan in the Super Four stage.
With two centuries against his name, Dhawan (327) has scored most runs in this Asia Cup, and Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim (297) just edged Sharma (269) to second place after his match-winning 99 against Pakistan in the last match.
The same cannot be said about Bangladesh. The injury to regular opener Tamim Iqbal has hit them hard. In the five matches so far, they have had opening stands of 1, 15, 15, 16 and 5. After three failed starts with Nazmul Hossain Shanto, the Tigers paired Soumya Sarkar with Liton Das, but that move also did not yield the desired result.
Against the regular Indian opening bowling, Das and Sarkar will have to come good. It’s not going to be about how many runs they put together in the first Powerplay, but how they avoid getting out. A 25-0 would be a more preferred score than the 43-3 they were after 10 overs in their last match against India.
That would be a tough task against the Indian opening attack of Bumrah and Kumar, who have been phenomenal so far. In the three matches they have played together, the best start they have given to the opposition is 24 in eight overs to Pakistan in the Super Four stage match.
Indian spinners vs Bangladesh middle order
From Bangladesh’s perspective, while they will hope that the opening batsmen fire today, their best hope of putting a good score, or chasing well, is a solid stretch of middle overs.
The two regular Indian spinners, Chahal and Yadav, have been very effective in these conditions. It helps that both are wrist-spinners and they have plenty of variety. Along with Jadeja (7 wickets), they have taken 19 wickets so far, but what is more impressive is that they have maintained the relentless pressure that is applied at the onset by Bumrah and Kumar.
The two best batsmen for Bangladesh in the tournament have been Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Mithun, and along with Mahmudullah, they will have to deliver once again.