April 14 , 1995 was the last time team India had their arms around the coveted trophy that depicts the dominance in Asian Cricket. That tournament was held in India and not attended by Pakistan. After winning four of the first five editions held, India has slipped considerably by not winning in any of the next four appearances. Srilanka, who also have four claims on this trophy, on the other hand have been triumphant three of the last four occasions. On Thursday, these two teams would clash for the title for the third straight time and with a win on Tuesday, Srilanka must definitely start as favorites.
Home conditions do play a big part, however, the hosts have looked like a well balanced unit throughout this edition of the asia cup. After beating beating Pakistan on hair-thin margin, banking on Malinga heroics, the Lankans have played dominant cricket. India on the other hand have been a mixed bag, a convincing win over Bangladesh was followed by a last over thriller that they should have won much earlier, and then a worrying loss against the hosts. Srilanka has played some outstanding cricket with the top-order of Dilshan, Sangakarra, and Jayawardene firing at the right time, ably supported by bowling unit of Malinga-Maharoof-Murali-Randiv, and then there is the trump card all-rounder Mathews.
The problem with Indian team seems two-fold, lack of planning in their batting and inconsistency in the bowling department. In both of their last two games, the batsman lost the plot after having a very good beginning and being in great position heading into final 10-12 overs. The bowling has other woves, seamers were wayward in the opening game, then bowled extremely controlled spells in the next one, only two lose it all up in the last one. Same can be said of the spinners, who crafted the first win, however, have been totally unimpressive in the next two outings. The only consistent part has been fielding, that has improved quite a few notches compared to recent past.
Indian have suffered a Sehwag jolt, yet again, however, I feel the team management can still do a better job in selecting the playing XI. It bemuses me to still see Rvindra Jadeja walk out to the field, every time India plays an ODI, while talented Irfan Pathan is nowhere on the scene. Pathan, in-spite of being bowling all-rounder, is a far better batsman than Jadeja. Captain cool and Co. can surely take a few chances with that #7 spot, especially when you have Virat, Rohit, & Raina who do roll their arms over quite frequently. I would be tempted to play Saurabh Tiwary at that spot.
For bowlers – ZK, PK, and Bhajji are in for sure and only toss up is between Nehra & Ojha. Pitch conditions & Nehra’s fitness would end being the decisive factors. On an all important game, I would recommend Mahi to call it right and bat first, use Rohit at #4 (just like on Tuesday, where he delivered), Tiwary at #7, and take his best shot at the title. Sangakarra doesn’t have to do anything different, all he needs is his top-order to be consistent as they have been recently, the 3Ms (Malinga-Murali-Maharoof) to click and a Mathews punch. As an Indian fan, I do want team India to reclaim the glory that has been 15 years in waiting, however, May the best team win!!!
India: G Gambhir, D Karthik, V Kohli, R Sharma, MS Dhoni, S Raina, S Tiwary, H Singh, P Kumar, Z Khan, & A Nehra/ P Ojha
Srilanka: W Tharanga, T Dilshan, K Sangakarra, M Jayawadene, S Kandamby, A Mathews, C Kapugedera, M Maharoof, S Randiv, M Muralitharan, L Malinga.
– Nikhil Sharad Jadhav