Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim (left), Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq (second left), India captain Virat Kohli (third left), Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi (second right) and Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews pose with the Asia Cup trophy during a ceremony in Dhaka, yesterday. Bangladesh will host the Asia Cup 2014, which will start from today.
DHAKA: Injuries to star players, including India’s World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have taken the sheen off the Asia Cup which opens in Bangladesh today.
New entrants Afghanistan appear the only injury-free side as the other four teams struggle to field their best players for the 11-match tournament, billed as the symbol of regional supremacy in the one-day region.
Dhoni’s absence, due to a side strain suffered on the New Zealand tour which ended barely a week ago, leaves stand-in captain Virat Kohli without one of the world’s leading limited-overs players.
“He is the reason why we have been very good in the one-day format in recent years,” Kohli said of Dhoni, who guided India to victory in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 and the 2011 World Cup.
“His not being there is a big change, but I am sure the other guys will make the most of the opportunity,” he told reporters in Dhaka.
With Bangladesh also due to host the World Twenty20 next month, India are not the only side reluctant to take risks with injuries at the Asia Cup.
Sri Lanka, who ended a month-long bilateral tour of Bangladesh on Saturday, have their bowling resources depleted with the absence of injured seamer Nuwan Kulasekara and veteran spinner Rangana Herath.
Opening batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan may not be available for the entire tournament due to a finger injury sustained during the recent one-day series against the hosts.
Pakistan’s fast bowler Mohammad Irfan was ruled out of both the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20 after aggravating a hip injury sustained on the tour of South Africa in early December.
Pakistan’s bowling coach Mohammad Akram was hopeful Irfan’s injury will not prove costly. “Irfan is a lethal bowler but it’s not like we are over-reliant on him,” Akram said. “We won the one-day series in South Africa without him.”
Bangladesh ignored Tamim Iqbal for the Asia Cup due to a neck strain, hoping to have the swashbuckling opener fit for the World Twenty20.
The hosts will also be without senior all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan for the first two matches against India and Afghanistan following a ban imposed by the Bangladesh Cricket Board for a lewd gesture on live television during the Sri Lanka series.
Defending champions Pakistan, along with India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will play each other once in the league, with the top two qualifying for the final in Dhaka on March 8.
Meanwhile, Pakistan are determined to defend their trophy, but Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews remains optimistic as the two cricket giants face off in the opening match today.
Pakistan, who won the title in 2012, are aiming to put pressure on their opponents with a team balancing experienced players and newcomers.
Both teams are focusing not just on the opening match but on the whole tournament.
“We have played a lot against Pakistan and India,” Mathews told reporters at a news briefing yesterday. “We know them and they also know us.”
“All the teams are even. They will want to win the matches. We also would like to win. Hopefully there will be a really good competition,” he added.
“I think we need to show more good performance to go further,” Mathews said.
“Beating Bangladesh 3-0 doesn’t mean that it would be easier for us to win the Asia Cup. It will be a tough tournament and there will be huge challenges.”