Asia Cup 2018: Hong Kong's performance is great for cricket's future, but India have a few questions to answer ahead of the Pakistan clash
It’s already past midnight as I write this. When I’ll tell my friends and colleagues that I stayed awake till 1 o' clock to witness India defeat Hong Kong by 27 runs in their Asia Cup opener, most of them will have utter disbelief on their faces; they don't care about any match other than the epic clash between India and Pakistan, and would be surprised that I watched India take on the minnows Hong Kong.
But the real (Indian) cricket fans will have pleased faces, as they would know that the world witnessed a quality one-day match between two unmatched sides: one ranked second by ICC, and the other fighting for ODI status.
An enthralling opening partnership of 174 runs put up by Hong Kong (HK) captain Anshuman Rath and Nizakat Khan had not just Rohit Sharma but also all the Indian fans chewing their fingernails. It seemed Hong Kong would pull off an unthinkable run-chase until left-arm unorthodox bowler Kuldeep Yadav made the break-through, going past 50 wickets in the process.
Kuldeep became the second fastest leggie after Ajantha Mendis (19) to take 50+ ODI wickets, getting to the mark in 24 matches - one fewer than the great Shane Warne (25).
This sort of performance wasn’t expected from Hong Kong, who punched above their weight today. They put up a strong statement, knocking on the ICC doors and forcing the administrators to rethink their stand of curtailing the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 to just the top 10 ranked teams.
I believe the ICC should start thinking like FIFA in order to popularize the ‘gentleman’s game’ beyond boundaries and not limit it to England and her colonies. This match reminded me of the (recently concluded) FIFA World Cup clash between Morocco and Spain, which Spain almost lost before scraping out a 2-2 draw.
Sri Lanka's loss to Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the Asia Cup didn't take many by surprise. Performance matters more than anything else, and the boys from the war-stricken nation and the Bangla tigers spearheaded by Shakib and Co. have played better cricket than the islanders.
The performances of Bangladesh and Afghanistan over the last decade have inspired a lot of associate nations to play strong cricket and raise their voice so as to get a chance to express themselves before the top-ranked full members. This will not only expose them to bigger level of competition but also give them a chance to impress the cash-rich boards (BCCI, ECB, CA) through their skills and talents, opening the doors for them to play the popular domestic leagues like the IPL, BBL, CPL, T20 Blast, PSL, etc.
The latest entrant to these leagues is the Nepali spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who showcased his talent wearing the Delhi Daredevils jersey in the IPL 2018.
After the completion of the India-Hong Kong match, Harsha Bhogle very rightly tweeted that sometimes it is good to be asked tough questions before a big game. Now all eyes will be anxiously rooted to the mother of all cricket battles: India vs Pakistan.
The match begins at 5 PM IST, and Indian captain Rohit Sharma said that the Men in Blue are mentally ready for the clash. But the big question remains to be answered as to how physically how fit they are to face the Men in Green in less than 24 hours.
Ravi Shastri and Rohit Sharma need to address a few questions before the epic clash, starting with the team combination. It is almost certain that premier pacer Jasprit Bumrah will be back among the ranks to spearhead the bowling attack.
The Indian captain would also be eager to give Khaleel Ahmed another go after the youngster produced an impressive performance in his debut match, completing his full spell with impressive figures of 10-0-48-3. The Indian version of Mitchell Starc could be the surprise weapon for Rohit Sharma.
With Bhuvneshwar back in the mix, these three can complete the pace trio, which would rule the inconsistent Hardik Pandya out of the playing XI.
As the same pitch will be used (at Dubai International Cricket Stadium) for the Indo-Pak clash, spin is once again going to play a key role, which would favors the inclusion of all-rounder Kedar Jadhav as the third spinner.
Among the batsmen, the think tank can replace the patchy Dinesh Karthik with KL Rahul, who scored an impressive 149 in the Oval Test recently. That apart, the batting unit looks settled with centurion Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma opening for India with Ambati Rayudu to follow at number 3.
However, if Rahul plays, it might be better to open with Dhawan-Rahul and skipper Rohit coming in at number 4. That would balance the middle-order to an extent as the experienced MS Dhoni gets back to number 5 with Jadhav and Bhuvi completing the top 7.
With vengeance on their mind (for the Champions Trophy final loss), it will be interesting to see how Team India performs in the high-tension clash without their run machine Virat Kohli.