Unstoppable so far with clinical performances, a formidable India will square off against a passionate and sprightly Bangladesh in their quest for continental supremacy in the final of the Asia Cup Twenty20 cricket tournament in Mirpur on Sunday.
On paper, India are overwhelming favourites as the ICC rankings (India’s 1st vs Bangladesh’s 10th) suggests. But it counts for little in the shortest format, wherein the complexion of the game can change in a matter of one over.
A master plot always has sub-plots and this final will be no different. There will be little testing battles, which promise to make it an intriguing summit clash.
Whether it is Tamim Iqbal’s flamboyance against Jasprit Bumrah’s surprise element or young Soumya Sarkar’s cavalier approach against Ashish Nehra’s years of experience, there are enough ingredients for a heady battle. Ravichandran Ashwin’s guile against Sabbir Rahaman’s conventional yet dangerously attacking batsmanship or Rohit Sharma’s artistry against Taskin Ahmed’s youthful exuberance can also be a spectator’s delight.
The only missing link will be Mustafizur Rahman, out with a Grade I side strain.
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be looking at a bigger picture as the Asian title will mark the perfect preparation before the ICC World T20 at home.
His opposite number Mashrafe Mortaza is not at all looking that far ahead as an Asian title will mean a watershed moment for T20 cricket in the country and a solid boost before they face the Netherlands and Ireland in the qualifying round of the marquee event in picturesque Dharamsala.
It will be a battle between a team full of T20 specialists against a team which has learnt to consistently punch above its weight.
And with the most partisan 25,000 supporters creating an awful din, it will not be an easy job for Dhoni and his men when Mortaza’s boys try to put them under the pump in a floodlit Sher-e-Bangla stadium.
For Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli — playing a big final is not new. They have been there and done that before.
For Mashrafe, Shakib Al Hasan, Sabbir Rahman, the taste of a title win is something alien. They came very near to it in 2012 when Pakistan crossed the final hurdle as Mahmudullah Riyadh choked in the final overs.
The same Mahmudullah is a ‘man of big occasions’ for Bangladesh as he has more than redeemed himself with that boundary off Anwar Ali to take his team to the final.
But then, no one remembers the second best and Dhoni knows that too well. He will leave no stone unturned to emerge victorious before embarking on his journey to reclaim the World T20 trophy.
Both teams have done well in the tournament but India have looked the most complete side and in skipper’s words, “a balanced side with all bases covered.”
With nine wins out of 10, the Indian juggernaut has been rolling since the start of the T20 series against Australia, that begun in Adelaide.
But the 11th match will be a tricky test more so because it is being played on Bangladeshi soil.
The hostile crowd can create pressure on youngsters like Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah, playing their first final for India. But both boys have had the experience of playing under pressure in the Indian Premier League which will come in handy.
After giving the reserve bench an opportunity, India are expected to be bring back their usual playing XI. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are expected to open the innings.
While Rohit has been the top-scorer among the Indians with 137 runs, Dhawan so far has looked shaky despite full backing from his captain.
Kohli, with two man of the match performances under his belt, will look to end the tournament on a high with another significant contribution.
Suresh Raina is expected to fare better if the pitch does not have a lot of bounce and carry while Yuvraj has got back into the groove with couple of good knocks against Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates.