We are in the final leg of the Asia Cup 2018 in the UAE. The tournament started with six aspirants and is now down to the final two - India and Bangladesh. Fans and the media in general had predicted that the two pre-tournament favorites - India and Pakistan would end up meeting in the finals. The arguments to support that prediction were compelling and few challenged that proposition. In fact, before Pakistan played Bangladesh in the semi-finals, few entertained even the possibility of Bangladesh beating Pakistan in that match.
India, predictably, has been dominant throughout the tournament. They have looked a cut above the rest and are going into the finals as the prohibitive favorites. They are unbeaten in the tournament and have yet to play an opponent that has remotely challenged their supremacy in a meaningful game.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, has had an eventful tournament thus far. This time around, oddly, very few predicted a strong Bangladesh performance in the tournament. To add to those low expectations, in their very first game against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh lost their best batsman Tamim Iqbal to injury for the remainder of the tournament.
Moreover, because Shakib Al Hassan, their most valuable player, was playing with an injured finger, the prospect of an early exit for Bangladesh from the tournament seemed a sure thing. But the Tigers fought. They destroyed Sri Lanka in the opener and went on to lose a close one to Afghanistan. In the Super-four stage, while they surrendered meekly to India, they came back from the depths of elimination to squeak past Afghanistan followed by impressively knocking out Pakistan to take a spot in Friday's final.
For the finals, let's look at the potential strategies that India and Bangladesh will employ in their pursuit of the Asia Cup 2018 title:
Batting: India's batting has been so dominant in this tournament that, barring the virtual warm-up match against Hong Kong and the dead-rubber against Afghanistan, they have lost a total of only 6 wickets, combined, in their three matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their openers, Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan, have destroyed opposing bowlers. In fact, they have been so good that India's middle-order is yet to be tested. So, the batting is India's greatest strength.
Bowling: In Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India now have two of the best death over bowlers in the world. In addition, their coterie of spinners, including mystery spinner Kuldeep Yadav, has been effective in stifling runs and in picking up wickets at crucial points during the middle overs of the match. Their bowling is effective, precise, and impressive.
Batting: Bangladesh's top order is its main weakness. Since Tamim Iqbal's injury, the Bangladesh top order has just been brittle. However, their middle order has been the backbone of their batting and time and again in this tournament, they have played a huge part in getting Bangladesh's innings on track. Mushfiqur Rahman in particular has been the lynchpin of their batting line up. So, in the finals, once again, Bangladesh's ability to post a score or chase a tough target will largely depend on the success of its middle order.
Bowling: Throughout the tournament, Bangladesh has mostly relied on a three pacers and two spinners strategy. Unfortunately, Shakib Al Hassan, their most valuable all-rounder, is now out of the tournament due to injury. Bangladesh relied heavily on its part-time bowlers to fill the void of the fifth bowler in their match against Pakistan. They were successful then but whether the part-timers can get the job done against India is a big question Bangladesh must be asking itself tonight.
To win, India will rely heavily on its batsmen to post a big total. They will rely on a three pacers and two spinners strategy and will look to attack Bangladesh's middle order with its three spinners, including Kedar Jadhav. They will be relying on their mystery spinner to take out Mushfiqur Rahim early in his innings.
As for Bangladesh, they will hope to break India's opening partnership as soon as possible by using an off-spinner and a pacer as the opening bowling combination. Clearly, their hope will be to get to India's middle order as soon as possible and test it like it hasn't been in this tournament. As for their batting, they will hope that their openers will contribute meaningfully in a way they haven't all tournament. Their middle order will then look to attack the spinners to put India's spinners under pressure.
So, the strengths, weaknesses, and strategies of both teams are clear. India is significantly more equipped than Bangladesh, However, like the Champions Trophy final last year indicated, a final is a different ball game. One false start and things can fall apart. Bangladesh will certainly be hoping for a break early on. But, India, under Rohit Sharma is an agile, lethal, and dominating force and they are expected to shut out Bangladesh early in the game.Published 27 Sep 2018, 23:04 IST