The 14th edition of cricket’s Asia Cup will get underway in Bangladesh on Wednesday, marking the first time the competition will be competed for over the Twenty20 format. And with the World Twenty 20 just two weeks away, the competition has particular significance, effectively acting as final preparation, at least for four of the five teams involved. The five teams will face off in a round-robin format, with the top two going on to contest the final.
Here’s a look at how each of the competitors are shaping up.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team will start as the undoubted favorites to win the competition for just the second time since 1995. After a poor year in both limited-overs formats in 2015, India have rebounded strongly at the start of 2016, and look like a good bet to go on and win the World T20 on home soil. After condemning Australia to a first-ever series whitewash in Twenty20 internationals in their own backyard, India beat Sri Lanka on home soil earlier this month.
With Virat Kohli and many of their batsmen in sparkling form and backed up by a solid bowling attack, India will be hard to beat. However, an injury that ruled out Mohammed Shami and a late fitness scare for Dhoni is a concern.
Pakistan enter the Asia Cup in desperate need of building some momentum ahead of the World Twenty20. After losing all three matches in cricket’s shortest format to England in favorable conditions in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan were then handed back-to-back emphatic defeats by New Zealand last month. Captain Shahid Afridi has delivered an ominous warning to his players on the eve of the tournament. "The team management, selectors and I gave full confidence and support to every player," he said, reports Pakistan news outlet Dawn. "The same response was not forthcoming from players."
With an opening match against fierce foes India, Pakistan will have to be on their game from the start.
Champions last time out in 2014 and winners of four of the last seven Asia Cups, Sri Lanka will now aim to continue that impressive run going over 20 overs. It is a format in which Sri Lanka have enjoyed plenty of success, and are current world champions having lifted the title two years ago. However, they have not won a Twenty20 international series since then, falling most recently against India.
There is reason for optimism, with captain Lasith Malinga, vice-captain Angelo Matthews, along with seam bowler Nuwan Kulasekara, returning to the squad after missing out against India. Finding a reliable partnership at the top of the batting order, however, remains a priority.
The hosts will get the tournament underway on Wednesday with their toughest challenge, taking on favorites India. It promises to be a stern test for a country that has only won four of their 37 matches in the Asia Cup. Bangladesh have achieved little success in Twenty20 competition, either, losing 15 of their 18 games in World T20s. They did achieve an impressive result last April when recording an emphatic win over Pakistan, but home support may not be sufficient to carry them to any great success, especially with opener Tamin Iqbal missing out due to the imminent birth of his first child.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE became the final entrant to the Asia Cup having come through a qualifying competition over the past few days in Bangladesh. And their participation is something of a surprise. Their form in the T20 format over the past year had been far from impressive, and they failed dismally in qualifying for the World T20, suffering defeats to Afghanistan, Scotland, Ireland and Kenya. But an upset win over Afghanistan in their opening Asia Cup qualifier provided the springboard for them to go on and beat Hong Kong and Oman to move onto the tournament proper.
Asia Cup schedule (all matches start at 8:30 a.m. EST)
Wednesday, Feb. 24
India vs. Bangladesh
Thursday, Feb. 25
Sri Lanka vs. United Arab Emirates
Friday, Feb. 26
Bangladesh vs. United Arab Emirates
Saturday, Feb. 27
India vs. Pakistan
Sunday, Feb. 28
Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka
Monday, Feb. 29
Pakistan vs. United Arab Emirates
Tuesday, March 1
India vs. Sri Lanka
Wednesday, March 2
Bangladesh vs. Pakistan
Thursday, March 3
India vs. United Arab Emirates
Friday, March 4
Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka
Sunday, March 6
TV and live stream info: Yupp TV will have exclusive coverage of the 2016 Asia Cup in the United States.