India will be aiming to keep their momentum going ahead of next month’s World Twenty20 on home soil when beginning its quest to lift the Asia Cup next week. The tournament presents an ideal warm-up for the global 20-over showpiece, with it being contested over cricket’s shortest format for the first time.
The previous 12 editions have been played over 50 overs, with India triumphing on five occasions, joint most with Sri Lanka. For the second year running the event will take place in Bangladesh, with all of the fixtures being played at the Sher-e Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Mirpur. India will be competing against the hosts, as well as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a qualifier yet to be determined in a round-robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the final.
Given India’s current form, reaching the final should be the least of their ambitions. Coming into 2016, India were in a slump in limited-overs cricket, with pressure rising on veteran captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But the turnaround has been as swift as it has been dramatic. Becoming the first team ever to whitewash Australia in their own backyard in the T20 format was as impressive as it gets, and the confidence from that accomplishment was carried forward into a series win back at home against Sri Lanka.
The latter victory was earned without the rested Virat Kohli, who is now set to return to the team in Bangladesh to boost an in-form batting lineup. The bowling attack is in good shape, too, with spinner Ravichandran Ashwin taking nine wickets in his three outings against Sri Lanka and 22-year-old pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah making a strong introduction to international cricket. There will, though, he one notable absentee from the squad in Bangladesh, after Mohammed Shami was ruled out of the Asia Cup after on Friday having failed to recover sufficiently from a hamstring injury.
Shami suffered the injury at the start of the tour of Australia in January, resulting in him being immediately sent home. The matches Down Under were set to be the 25-year-old’s return to international cricket, having undergone knee surgery and lengthy rehabilitation following last year’s World Cup. Shami shone at the World Cup, taking 17 wickets, but there must now be some concern over his fitness and match sharpness ahead of the World Twenty20, which gets underway for India on March 15 against New Zealand.
But before that comes the Asia Cup, where Bhuvneshwar Kumar will now be given a chance to impress after being called up in Shami’s place. Kumar has not played for India since suffering a fractured left thumb during the one-day international series against Australia. The last of his 13 Twenty20 internationals came during the series loss to South Africa last October, when he failed to take a wicket in two matches.
India’s Asia Cup campaign begins next Wednesday with a meeting with hosts Bangladesh, before facing a mammoth showdown with fellow neighbors and biggest rivals Pakistan three days later.
Updated India Asia Cup squad
MS Dhoni (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar
India Asia Cup schedule
Feb. 24: vs. Bangladesh
Feb. 27: vs. Pakistan
March 1: vs. Sri Lanka
March 3: vs. TBC qualifier