Asia Cup final: Bowlers may decide the outcome

Bangladesh are on the brink of Asian supremacy and Pakistan will do well to deny them.

Bangladesh have chased well while Pakistan will prefer to bat first.

Once again, fans in both India and Pakistan show that they value a victory over their arch-rival more than they do the tournament. If the 2007 World Cup taught us anything, it is that in the agony and disgrace of first-round exits, fans found ecstasy in seeing the same fate dealt to their neighbour.  It may sound cruel, but India is eliminated from the Asia Cup on the back of wins over Pakistan and Sri Lanka and a loss to Bangladesh.  The Indian fan will see the greater prize in a lifetime of memories from the team’s triumph over Pakistan.

Sri Lanka would do well to forget this tournament altogether. Upul Tharanga has demonstrated in the last handful matches that he is at home at No. 6.  Chamara Kapugedera showed great fight and maturity when the top order collapsed to Nazmul Hossain.  In every sense, the recent CB Series in Australia was a much better showing in a harder tournament, given the conditions.  Sri Lanka would do well to not lose too much sleep over their three losses, and shift focus to their first Test against England which begins in less than a week.

Bangladesh will go into the final with a focused confidence. Since losing the curtain-raiser to Pakistan, they were forced to play with their backs to the wall, and won gritty contests.  The only change Bangladesh made to the playing XI was to bring in Nazmul Hossain for Shafiul Islam after their win against India for the Sri Lanka match. Nazmul rewarded the coaching staff with three early breakthroughs and was the second-best player on either team after the ever-consistent Shakib Al Hasan.  If there was a criticism to be made of Mushfiqur Rahim’s captaincy in the field, it was his late bowling changes that kept a wayward Shahadat Hossain running in while Nazmul languished on 3 for 22 with two overs to spare.

The team management has shown their willingness to tinker with a winning line-up, and they will surely consider sitting Shahadat, whose expensive figures belie his scattershot line. With an economy rate of 7.12, Shahadat has consistently been the most expensive bowler in an attack that prides itself on manufacturing dot balls and restricting single to apply pressure.  Shahadat’s best match came against Pakistan where he took 3 for 53 from 8, and if he is kept for the final it will be on the hope that he can repeat that effort.

Looking for a change, Shafiul Islam could be brought back to strengthen the attack. Conversely, Bangladesh might look to strengthen the batting depth which was bowled out by Pakistan when they last met 21 runs short with two overs to go.  In that case, they would do well to field a left-hander near the top with Imrul Kayes or Elias Sunny.

Where Bangladesh go into the final riding two victories, Pakistan does so on their only loss.  Even though Pakistan won when the two sides met in their league match, the final will offer them a chance at redemption as they hope to improve on what was their worst performance of the tournament.  

Pakistan will certainly make changes.  Wahab Riaz will be the first to go after conceding a half-century with the ball in four overs.  Sarfraz Ahmed must return to take the gloves after Umar Akmal played stand-in.  That experiment cost Pakistan at least 20 runs in the field compounded by the loss of Umar Akmal marshalling the offside field from point and gully.

Those are the quick and easy fixes.  George Bernard Shaw famously said, ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’  If there is any truth to the other side of the saying, then Misbah-ul Haq is proof that, ‘Experience is a burden to the old’.  Misbah must make full use of his resources and trust Hammad Azam with the ball.  His decision to not continue with Mohammad Hafeez’s offspin after taking Gambhir’s wicket in the first over against India showed too much reliance on the pre-match strategy. Hafeez had established himself as a threat with this second delivery and Misbah kept him out of the attack until the 12th over, by which point Tendulkar and Kohli had added 63 easy runs. Fortunately for Pakistan, Younis Khan found some form against India, and it was only an audacious blinder from the cat-like Raina that kept the batting side from posting a score north of 350.

One man who should find himself in a position similar to that of Shahadat Hossain is Shahid Afridi.  It should have happened by now, but soon everyone will realize that Afridi is not doing enough to earn his place in the side.  He positions himself as an allrounder, but his best days with either tool are behind him.  Afridi is a liability with the bat and his bowling has been wayward. Like Shahadat, Afridi has the worst economy in his squad among those who sent down more than 4 overs.  Like Shahadat, his reputation and the fact that his best (read: least worst) performance came against the other finalist will probably be enough to keep him on the field.

If Afridi is being played as a specialist bowler, the conditions point to Abdur Rehman, though that change is unlikely given the left-arm man has not played in the tournament.  Bangladesh took more Pakistani wickets than any other opponent, so if Afridi makes room for a batsman, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali are waiting in the wings, each of whom can sneak in a few overs of part-time legspin.

Bangladesh will prefer to chase their target, while Pakistan will prefer to defend theirs.  This strategy will make the coin toss a formality and begin the chess match from the opening delivery. The final looks a contest to be won with the ball, and both teams will fancy their chances. As often happens when bowling is the focus of a match, it is the fielders who ultimately decide the contest, and Bangladesh hold a strong advantage in that department.

The Pakistan team has always had a second home in Bangladesh. The fans treat them as well as their own. This will be a moment of great pride for Bangladesh, possibly 100 overs away from being crowned the champions of Asia, and Pakistan will have to weather as hostile crowds as the friendly smiles in Dhaka can muster.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

On-field action set to divert from off-field drama

On-field action set to divert from off-field drama

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Michael Klinger has revealed he felt compelled to leave South Australia after being told he would be only a fringe part of the Redbacks' plans for next season, and disputed the suggestion that he left… More »

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

The revival of Indo-Pak Test ties could take place in UAE. More »

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

'This time around we will hope to go few more steps ahead and actually get that trophy' More »

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Apart from the foreign players a lot of behind-the-scene activity has taken place in selecting the Indian domestic players. More »

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and former cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian… More »

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

Kiwi all-rounder wants to utilise the India leg to explore the country’s tourist attractions. More »

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Says his mother made him change his mind. More »

Supreme Court says no to BCCI’s request

Supreme Court says no to BCCI’s request

Bench refuses to grant access to recordings of Srini and Dhoni’s depositions before Mudgal committee. More »

Pietersen’s ‘little’ secret is out

Pietersen’s ‘little’ secret is out

A fractured little finger could now throw the Delhi Daredevils captain out of action at the start of this season. More »

SMA Trophy gets short-changed

SMA Trophy gets short-changed

Key players are away preparing for the IPL, taking the shine off the other domestic T20 fixture. (CYCSPL) More »