Asia Cup 2022: Where Things Stand
Tournaments will be played in the Twenty20 format
If adaptation is the name of the game, few tournaments can claim to have survived shifting commercial cricket interests, bilateral political tussles, and the forces of time as the Asia Cup has. Even with diminished value, much delayed schedules and musical chairs when it comes to hosting the tournament itself, the Asia Cup is keeping its date with history this week.
For only the second time in its 15-year history, the Asia Cup will be played in the Twenty20 format. The only other time this format change was initiated by the organisers of the Asia Cup, the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), was in 2016.
The Asia Cup has found itself a convenient niche presently as a precursor, serving as the mini rehearsal of its kind for the forthcoming ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022 set to take place later this year in Australia. It might also be its only road for survival in the near future.
Starting front and centre will be India. Despite still trying to find their best fit 11, the seven time champions, more importantly, defending champions of the last two editions, the last of which was held back in 2018, will be the cynosure of all eyes. This particularly because India get out of the gate, playing a blockbuster match with Pakistan.
Finding their feet and momentum under Rohit Sharma will be of priority. India did not have a good hunt at the last few ICC events and have since undergone a leadership change. The lack of ICC trophies was cited as one of the reasons why Virat Kohli fell out of contention with the board and the selectors.
Not far behind are Pakistan, who despite having only won the tournament twice back in 2000 and 2012, will count themselves amongst the favourites, having finished strongly at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021, losing the semi final to Australia.
Although Sri Lanka have an impressive history at the Asia Cup, winning the tournament five times, they have fallen down rungs in terms of contention from the sub continent. The Asia Cup will then provide an interesting opportunity to test their preparedness, coming up against seemingly less heavy weights like Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Group B en route to making it to the top four at the finish.
While Afghanistan participated in the Asia Cup in 2014 and 2018 when the Asia Cup was last held, this is the first time that the Mohammad Nabi-led team will participate in the multi team Twenty20 format. This should be an interesting prospect in itself, against a smaller slice of the cricket world but an influential one nevertheless.
Arguably once again the eyes will be on the biggest clash of the tournament, India versus Pakistan in Group A. It will, in contrast, feature matches with both teams playing a round robin match against a qualifier, from amongst Hong Kong, UAE, Singapore and Kuwait.
The UAE will be one of the associate member teams to have qualified and feature at the next edition of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup later this year. It would seem that there is a clear frontrunner as well as favourite in the proxy host department and also, in the qualifying tournament prior to the Asia Cup.
UAE's profile as a participating host and associate member has received an upshot with it becoming the preferred ground for the IPL as well as the Asia Cup. It stands in for Pakistan over India's (and thereafter, other teams' refusal to tour their fractious neighbour after the November 2008 terror attack) and also, now for Sri Lanka given the current political and financial turmoil in the Emerald Isles after coronavirus delays.
Bangladesh has an impressive history at the Asia Cup finishing as runners up in 2012, 2016, and 2018. Although their current form has not been great, and there has been some back and forth between the Bangladesh Cricket Board. An embattled but experienced all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, will carry the weight of expectations on his shoulders.
Closer to home, there will be focus on India from two perspectives. India's lack of trophies under Virat Kohli, following in the footsteps of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as India's successful captain, was cited as one of the bones of contention, though muddy waters ran deeper as eventually evidenced.
Rohit Sharma will have the onus of turning things around and quickly at that, even as the team selection has oscillated between rotation, erratic selection issues/conundrums as well as injury matters. Much has also been made about Kohli's form and the inclination of the selectors in that regard to include him in future tournaments.
Even as speculation has raged about whether India can afford to leave a class batsman like Kohli out of the squad for a tournament as big as the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, it would seem that the precursor, the Asia Cup, has given the Indian team an opportunity to test waters as well as rest matters with Kohli slotted in as expected in the team.
What might level the field between the various Asian contingent teams is the fact that more than one team is missing its respective spearhead for the tournament through a multitude of injuries.
Jasprit Bumrah is not available for India. Pakistan were dealt a blow with a last minute injury to Shaheen Shah Afridi. Dushmantha Chameera's absence for Sri Lanka remains to be seen as to the impact it will have on the team's fortunes. Additionally India have left out Mohammad Shami that has caught a few by surprise.
While it might still be a batsman's paradise, as Twenty20 oriented tournaments tend to skew towards, it will be a bowler's game. It will be interesting to see how teams cope with the changes and twisters when playing on different pitches in the same stadium as will be the case with India in Dubai.
Overall, while the aura of the Asia Cup might have dwindled over the years since 1984 when India won the inaugural edition, the fact is that it is still on the horizon, albeit after a four year hiatus. Unlike the ICC Champions Trophy that went from being a showcase event to being the snapshot of what a tightly competitive World Cup might look like to altogether losing place on the calendar with the addition of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, creating a situation of redundancy with World Cups at recurring intervals.
The Asia Cup finds itself outside the stronghold of the territory of India and its neighbours. Choosing a neutral venue as a proxy cannot be a longstanding situation for all that ails the subcontinent teams, given the popularity of the teams across the board, not to mention the rivalry between teams as well as alienated fans. That disconnect from the fans is something the Asia Cup cannot continue to overlook in terms of its future viability in a schedule striving desperately for breathing space amongst the glut of commercial interests.
While teams like Pakistan will fancy their changes, India will undoubtedly be under the spotlight. The fact that India have had a few close scenarios where they have been in three finals which they haven't won, they would like to make it a treble on the trot in a fortnight's time and a record eighth Asia Cup champions title. This will be a good confidence building exercise towards rewriting history at the World Cups at a later day.