On paper, they’re second only to world number one, England, as an ODI powerhouse. Nevertheless, the Rohit Sharma-led team India will be cautious about its campaign for the upcoming Asia Cup 2018. After having been on a dream run in the format since past two years, the stakes are high for team India, playing without the services of their ace card, Virat Kohli.

India, who last won the Asia Cup in 2010 in Sri Lanka, would be eager to stamp their authority in a multi lateral tournament, in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales.

Though India won the title in its latest edition in 2016, it was in a different format, as MS Dhoni then led the side to glory in the first-ever T20 Asia Cup.

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Rohit Sharma. Asia Cup 2018
Rohit Sharma will lead India in the Asia Cup 2018. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

With plenty of spots still up for grabs, the Asia Cup 2018 isn’t just another tournament for the Rohit Sharma-led side. Instead, the coveted competition should be seen as the perfect audition spot for the likes of KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu and Kedar Jadhav. All the mentioned batsmen will have a point to prove, with now just a limited number of games in store before the Indian selectors draw the final nucleus for the World Cup next year.

INTENSE COMPETITION –

A fascinating aspect about the side chosen for the Asia Cup 2018 is the intensity of competition. For instance, for the number four slot, there will be a definite toss-up between Manish Pandey and Ambati Rayudu. It can be stated by assuming the obvious that both the individuals will get tested at the particular spot at some point in the tournament.

Now move on to the other side of MS Dhoni’s position, and there’s another competition in line. The decision to persist with one of Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav will be extremely tricky. Both the experienced batsmen will fight it out for the slot of the finisher. While statistically, Jadhav holds the edge, it is the form since the last 12 months, which gives Karthik the edge.

MS Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu
MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu would like to make the most of the opportunities in Asia Cup 2018. Image Courtesy: Getty

All of this is possible since Virat Kohli isn’t playing the tournament and at his position, will be KL Rahul. Rahul was strangely treated in the UK, as after a century at Manchester in a T20I, his form fizzled away, but the management too didn’t back him and dropped him from the deciding ODI.

Hence, it is with the long-term view on future, which makes this Indian lineup such an ocean of excitement.

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STRENGTHS –

When one talks about India, the strength is to be the batting. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan undoubtedly form the best opening pair in world cricket right now. The duo have been absolute beasts in their way, and have left a path of mesmerizing numbers. Rohit Sharma in particular has been a force to reckon with in ODI’s, as he averages a jaw-dropping 58.79 in ODI’s since the end of the 2015 ICC World Cup and has 11 tons to his name in 48 innings. His strike rate too nearly touches the 97 mark, making him one of the most haunting sights for any bowler.

Rohit Sharma, India, Asia Cup 2018
Rohit Sharma (Credits – Getty)

While the top order, in particular, remains India’s primary strength, due credit needs to be given to their spin twins of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The duo has decimated merely batting lineups, and it was their performance in South Africa which stole the show a few months ago.

Bringing the old-fashioned wrist-spin back in fashion, the two wrist spinners have a defining impact in the middle overs. On the sluggish tracks of the UAE, they could once again wreck havoc.

WEAKNESS –

An optimist might call it an opportunity but realistically, the number four slot has now been a source of a serious worry for India. En number of individuals have thrown their hats in for the role, but all in vain. Since the previous World Cup, the side is yet to find a suitable number four. The position is profusely significant, as it often is the connecting link between the elusive top three and the finishers. A failure on this front is more often than not catastrophic.

Another minor weakness plaguing the side of late has been the elongated tail. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar batting at eight, India’s finishers need to deliver at all costs. It surely was one area where the team struggled in England, as both, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya were far from their best.

SURPRISE SELECTIONS / OMISSIONS: –

The inclusion of the lanky left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed was a due reward for his splendid performances for India A. Being a left-arm seamer; he offers a new approach altogether to the team, and undoubtedly has worked in his favour. With India on the look for young, fresh pacers, Ahmed’s inclusion in the scheme of things is more than a welcome move.

Despite being with the team in England, the middle-order batsman Shreyas Iyer finds himself out of the reckoning now. With Iyer constantly struggling for India A, he has been replaced by the experienced Ambati Rayudu.

RECENT FORM –

India had a mixed bag series against England in their previous assignment. After commencing the series with a dominating win at Nottingham, the side tumbled, as the second ODI at Lord’s saw the team struggle in a steep run chase.

The third ODI was an anti-climax, as a batting failure rued India’s chances. However, one must notice that India was without the services of their ace pacer Jasprit Bumrah throughout the series.

THE VERDICT –

Despite the absence of Virat Kohli, India has all the ingredients well covered. Rohit Sharma has significant captaincy exposure and in the upcoming Asia Cup 2018, he is expected to lead the team well. The tournament in all, will provide a far clearer picture to India’s approach for the World Cup next year. Its safe to say the men in blue start, as the favorites.

LIKELY XI:

Rohit Sharma ( c ) 2. Shikhar Dhawan 3. KL Rahul 4. A. Rayudu 5. MS Dhoni (wk) 6. K. Jadhav 7. H. Pandya 8. B. Kumar 9. K. Yadav 10. Y. Chahal 11. J. Bumrah