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An analysis of the teams vying for the Asia Cup

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Asia_Cup_2016_T20_cricketAsia Cup 2016 Preview: The battle for regional supremacy heats up

In a path-breaking decision, the structure of the Asia Cup was changed in April 2015. The tournament will be played with an eye on the ensuing ICC event, thus alternating between the 50-overs and T20I formats. In a tournament which is significant as the ICC World T20 looms nearby, the 2016 edition in Bangladesh from February 19 to March 6 promises to be an engrossing affair.

Another vital addition to the tournament's repertoire will be the presence of a qualifier tournament for the first time. The winner of the 4-team competition will get to play in the main event. In a way, it will serve as a lead-up to the major tournament. Considering the fickleness of T20 cricket, it will not be a huge upset if one of those teams slays a bigger team.

Let us analyze the composition, strengths and weaknesses of the countries who are vying for the bragging rights in Asia.

India - Dominant batting, but questions remain over pacers

The favorites for securing yet another trophy, India will be eager to stamp their authority in the subcontinent with a convincing display. Skipper MS Dhoni would want to formulate his strategies based upon the World T20 at home.

A power-packed top order comprising of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli is enough to worry opposition bowlers. Dhawan seems to have worked out his game in T20Is, which will be a huge relief for the selectors.

The lower-middle order of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja are short of match-practice with the bat during pressure situations. It will be interesting to see if either one is required to polish off the innings.

Though Jasprit Bumrah and Ashish Nehra are capable bowlers at the death, getting wickets with the new ball is a problem area. With key man Mohammed Shami returning from a knee injury, the onus will be on the spinners to bring both stability and venom to the bowling attack.

Pakistan - Desperate to regain confidence in limited overs cricket

For the last few years, Pakistan have been deteriorating rapidly in limited overs cricket. Despite their notable Test performances in UAE, the batting lineup has struggled to come to terms with the sluggish pitches in the shorter formats.  

Bereft of their traditional flair, both the ODI and T20 outfits are employing an outdated strategy with defense preceding aggression. The inability of the top-order batsmen to rotate the strike consistently has put considerable pressure on the flamboyant lower-order hitters.

Ever since trump-card Saeed Ajmal was called for throwing, they have not been able to exert pressure in the middle-overs. However, all is not doom and gloom. Mohammad Amir's re-integration into international cricket has gone smoothly in New Zealand.

Captain Shahid Afridi will rely heavily on Amir's X -Factor as he hopes to end his career on a high. Babar Azam's enterprising approach has been a refreshing change for the team management. He is likely to be a vital cog in Pakistan' batting unit.

Sri Lanka - Trial by fire for new-look defending champions

A lot has changed since Sri Lanka lifted both the Asia Cup and World T20 in 2014. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have walked off into the sunset. Lasith Malinga's fitness has plummeted sharply, thereby affecting his potency with the ball.

Angelo Mathews is slowly getting accustomed to rescue jobs lower down the order. Rangana Herath is virtually on his last legs and the inexperience is showing on the results. The younger guard will have to pull up their socks if Sri Lanka are to mount a reasonable defense for both titles.

Tillakaratne Dilshan's presence at the top will be a comforting factor. Defying his age, the veteran batsman is still providing quick-fire starts for his team. He will be surrounded by the likes of Danushka Gunathilaka and Dinesh Chandimal.

Nuwan Kulasekara should partner Malinga at the start as well as the end overs. Milinda Siriwardana is a handy all-rounder who could be an asset in sub-continental conditions. The rookie spinners will also be under immense pressure to deliver breakthroughs.

Bangladesh - Dark horses no longer, ready to usher in new era

2015 was a watershed year for Bangladesh cricket. After years of struggling to make an impact at the highest level, they put together a sequence of impressive performances in their home conditions. The Tigers even managed to reach the quarter finals of the ICC World Cup for the first time in Australia.

Despite their newfound success in ODIs, they still need a massive upgrade with respect to T20s. Even though Bangladesh managed to defeat Pakistan in a one-off T20I last April, they could only manage a drawn home series against Zimbabwe.

Mashrafe Mortaza's captaincy has been inspirational so far and he will want to create history by clinching the trophy. The presence of a well-rounded bowling attack adds enormous value to their chances.

The likes of Mustafizur Rahman & Taskin Ahmed are complemented by enterprising batsmen such as Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal. Apart from Shakib Al Hasan, the lack of depth in the spin department could hit them hard.

Qualifiers - Afghanistan keen to come out of the group unscathed

Afghanistan are the front-runners to make the transition from the qualifying tournament to rub shoulders with the big boys. Mohammad Shahzad is a livewire behind the stumps and has modeled his game on the renowned MS Dhoni. The hard-hitting Afghan batsmen are complemented brilliantly by a potent seam bowling unit. However, the absence of a top-class spinner could pose a problem or two on turning tracks. Nevertheless, their middle-order batsmen have enough quality to thwart tricky pitches.

Hong Kong ruffled quite a few feathers by sealing a memorable victory over Bangladesh in Chittagong during the preliminary round of the 2014 World T20. Nadeem Ahmed, who picked up 4 wickets in that tussle, could form a quirky partnership with promising leggie Nizakat Khan.

Oman's progress to this stage of the tournament is a praiseworthy achievement in itself. Coached by the former Sri Lankan stylist Duleep Mendis, the team has grown in confidence by beating the likes of Afghanistan and Netherlands in the ICC World T20 Qualifier.

UAE round-up the qualifying stage with a group of fighting cricketers. Boasting some of the most iconic stadiums in the game, UAE's recent form has been patchy. But they have geared up for the tournament with victories against Scotland and Oman.



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