Bangladesh opens the 2016 Asia Cup cricket championship on Wednesday, facing tournament favorites India in what could prove to be a preview of the final of the Asia Cup, which this year will be played in T20 format for the first time. The top Asia cricket competition — the only continent-wide Cup tournament in all of international cricket — has been contested 12 times since its founding in 1984.
Of those previous 12 Asia Cup tournaments, India has won five. Bangladesh will be looking for their first-ever Asia Cup championship. Sri Lanka has also won the tournament five times, with Pakistan winning the other two competitions.
The Tigers best performance came in 2012, when they came just three runs short of edging Pakistan in the final, held that year at Sher-e Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka, the first of three straight Asia Cup tournaments, including the 2016 edition, played in Bangladesh.
In the 2014 edition, Bangladesh, hosting again, went winless — even losing to qualifier Afghanistan.
In 2016, however, Bangladesh — despite a world ranking of 10th on the International Cricket Council points table — feels good about their chances. There will be five teams battling for the Asia Cup this time around, but Pakistan and Sri Lanka both come in with unsettled T20 squads, and qualifier United Arab Emirates can realistically hope to play spoiler at best.
The Asia Cup this year will be followed almost immediately by the T20 World Cup in India, with Bangladesh playing their first World Cup match on March 9 just three days after the Asia Cup final. But, Bangladesh is not planning to treat the competition as a warm-up.
The squad comes in at full strength, except for opener Tamim Iqbal, who has been excused due to the birth of his first child. Tamim will be replaced by Imrul Kayes, who returned to the Tigers T20 team in January against Zimbabwe after a four-year absence.
“This tournament is not just for preparation. We will fight for the championship,” said veteran Tigers all-rounder Mahmudullah Riyad at a press conference on Monday.
“There is no option to take things lightly. A good start is important for our team and we are preparing keeping that in mind. We will carry the boost throughout the competition if we can get a good start,” he added.
That positive start may be difficult to come by against India, the world’s top-ranked T20 side in the ICC ratings. Captained as usual by M.S. Dhoni, India come into the Asia Cup winning five of their last six T20 matches, taking two of three at home from Sri Lanka in February after a stunning three-game away sweep of Australia in late January.
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India master of spin Ravichandran Ashwin dominated Sri Lanka, claiming nine wickets in his 12 overs, after he slumped in Australia claiming just four for 91 runs in India’s three matches there.
Bangladesh counters with 20-year-old, left-arm pace prodigy Mustafizur Rahman, whose international debut last June (also against India, though in 50-overs series) created an international sensation when he claimed five-wicket hauls in each of his first two matches. He’s only the second bowler ever to pull off that feat.
A shoulder injury could hamper Mustafizur, who was pulled from both the four-match Zimbabwe series in January, and this month’s Pakistan Super League T20 franchise tournament in the UAE.
Watch highlights of Mustafizur’s international debut — Bangladesh vs. India on June 18, 2015 — in the video below.
In seven career international T20 matches, Mustafizur has taken 10 wickets and held opponents to an economy rate of just 5.45.
India will also feature a very much in-form Virat Kolhi, who devastated Australia bowlers with totals of 90, 54 and 50 in his team’s three-game whitewash down under. India then rested Kolhi for the series against Sri Lanka, in anticipation of the back-to-back Cup competitions: Asia and World.
India takes on Bangladesh in the opening match of the 2016 Asia Cup cricket championship on Wednesday, February 24, at Sher-e Bangla International Cricket Stadium in Dhaka. The match gets underway at 7:30 p.m. local time, 8:30 a.m. United States Eastern Time, and will stream live on YuppTV, which charges a subscription fee of $9.99 USD for all 11 Asia Cup T20 matches.
[Photo By A.M. Ahad/Associated Press]