Asia Cup February 24, 2014

Afghanistan join Asia's big boys

Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi stood alongside Virat Kohli, Misbah-ul-Haq, Angelo Mathews and Mushfiqur Rahim at the Asia Cup's trophy unveiling ceremony. Such events are now part of any series or tournament, but it would have been a special occasion for Nabi, as this is Afghanistan's first participation in a major one-day tournament.

The added prestige comes from taking part in a regional competition which boasts three former world champions. For someone like Nabi, this is the perfect opportunity to learn the nitty-gritty of captaincy. He has led in only four ODIs, and the Asia Cup will be Nabi's greatest opportunity to collect as much information as he can ahead of the World Twenty20s and looking ahead to the 2015 World Cup. They will all live in the same hotel too, so there will be more opportunities to learn on and off the field.

He will take lessons from how the Sri Lankan captain finds himself among several other former captains in the line-up and the Bangladeshi captain who has found himself in the middle of controversies galore. He will learn from India's most feted young batsman and a Pakistan captain who knows how to handle pressure with a straight face.

Kohli will have to deal with the usual expectations on an India captain, in addition to those brought on by his stellar ODI record. In Bangladesh, Kohli averages 122, having scored 732 runs with four hundreds and three fifties. As captain in eight ODIs, he averages 66.40 with a couple of centuries.

He may have found ODIs easy so far, but he understands that demands of the job in hand, as anything less than a title win will likely be seen as a disappointment. The potential of the young batting line-up - which is without the experience of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina - excites him, but his big test will be handling a bowling attack that has misfired badly in the recent past.

Misbah is a captain who is at the other end of the spectrum to Kohli. Though fans' opinions on Misbah are well and truly split, there is no denying that Misbah has brought Pakistan success in the last 12 months. In one-day cricket, Pakistan have won four out of their last five ODI series, and having usually played well in Dhaka, they will probably enter the tournament as slight favourites.

Age is not on Misbah's side but his experience has been a huge factor in keeping Pakistan on an even keel during his reign. Perhaps what helps him the most is the amount of runs he has scored in this format recently. He is Pakistan's leading scorer in the past 12 months, and his career record in wins is even more impressive - he averages 53.63, and 22 of his 35 half-centuries have helped Pakistan to victory.

Both Kohli and Misbah have excelled in ODIs, but the battle between India and Pakistan this time will have the added spice of two contrasting captains at work.

Mathews is a year older than Kohli and he has the opposite of what Kohli has. Mathews has experience in his line-up, the knowledge of several former captains and a current Twenty20 captain. In Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Mathews has the reliability most captains crave for. The presence of these consistent senior players means the likes of Kusal Perera and Dinesh Chandimal can play freely.

He has been known to respect the senior players' suggestions and it has been seen in on-field discussions, particularly in crunch situations, that both Jayawardene and Sangakkara have been in his ear. Dilshan and Lasith Malinga chip in from time to time, so Mathews has to carve out his own corner in the field.

If Mushfiqur had at least one player of such vast experience, he would have far fewer problems than he is facing right now. On the field, Bangladesh did not win a single match in the series against Sri Lanka recently. They drew a Test match earlier this month but that seems like a distant memory.

Right from the end of the Chittagong Test, there have been problems, from minor issues like Tamim Iqbal resigning as vice-captain to an incident when Shakib Al Hasan gestured inappropriately on live TV. Tamim's neck strain has added to injury woes which include Mushfiqur's finger and Mashrafe Mortaza's swollen knee.

Mushfiqur's own frustration boiled over when he criticised the chief selector for not consulting him ahead of the tournament's squad selection. The last month has not been a happy time for the Bangladesh captain, and without Shakib in the first two matches and Tamim for the entire tournament, the team's batting resources are considerably thinner. The absence of Shakib severely hurts the bowling department as well.

Given the myriad challenges facing the other four captains, Nabi will get a lot of first-hand knowledge from the Asia Cup. What he takes away from the Asia Cup will last a lifetime for Nabi. With two major tournaments coming up in the next 12 months, where cricket in the sub-continent stands will also be brought out through these five captains and their fortunes.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here