Overwhelming favourites

India are the team to beat in today’s Asia Cup final, writes K Shahid

Overwhelming favourites
India will start today’s final as the overwhelming favourites to win the Asia Cup. They started the tournament as the top pick as well, even though the team masterfully deflected the tag, only to go on and trounce all before them – barring Hong Kong, ironically, who managed to give them their toughest run yet.

This piece is being written before the final round of fixtures where India would take on Afghanistan, while Pakistan play Bangladesh in what would be a virtual semifinal. The winner of the latter would, of course, be taking on India in the final today.

Regardless, India would be the team to beat, and should they come across Pakistan today, they’d be looking to make it a hat-trick of wins against their archrivals in the tournament. Worse, they’d be looking to make it a hat-trick of resounding wins against their archrivals in the tournament. And doing so without Virat Kohli, of course.

Having said that, Pakistan are still alive in the Asia Cup, at the time of writing, and should they beat Bangladesh, they would be playing the final. And hence despite the contrasting path that Pakistan – or Bangladesh – would have taken to the final, they too would just be one win away from winnings the Asia Cup, just like India.

Pakistan’s biggest problem so far has been a brain fade that the team management has manifested with regards to playing ODI cricket. It is something that has taken them back a few decades and given them the idea that using an outdated and regressive strategy could win them matches in the year 2018. What has especially been mindboggling is the fact that the very opposite of this strategy helped them win the Champions Trophy last year, where they beat the same opposition in the final.

Pakistan’s performance will be dissected in detail next week depending on how events transpire this week. For the time being the side has an uphill task ahead regardless of what happens in the match against Bangladesh.

Pakistan vs India

Similarly, regardless of what happens this week, or today, the biggest winners of the Asia Cup are Afghanistan. Not only did they beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to top their group, they almost beat Pakistan and Bangladesh again in the Super Four stage.

Picture this: had the two last over finishes against Pakistan and then Bangladesh finished in favour of Afghanistan, we’d be previewing an Afghanistan vs India final in this space right now. That’s how far Afghanistan have come in such a short span of time.

Maybe Bangladesh winning the Asia Cup itself could have topped it, but as things stand, there most definitely isn’t a bigger winner of the tournament than Afghanistan.

Even so, the actual winner would be decided today, where India would feel confident of warding off any challenge that they face.

Team Afghanistan

India’s greatest strength as always has been their batting. Even a Kohli-less India side has Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to fall back on, and the duo has just piled on the runs – especially against Pakistan. That is precisely what Pakistan haven’t been doing, with Fakhar Azam not getting any runs and both Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam too cagey to leave their mark against confident bowling lineups.

Shoaib Malik alone has looked like bringing any semblance of modern day batting to the fore, with everyone else just waiting for the bowlers to gift them deliveries to score instead of making things happen.

It would be a major shock if India aren’t victorious today. But it would be classic Pakistan to snatch the tournament despite abysmal showings in the early stages.