Asian captains kickstart World Cup preparations
The captains of the four countries participating in the Asia Cup, which begins in Dambulla on Tuesday, have said the tournament is ideal for their World Cup preparations, in terms of identifying the right blend of youth and experience and building confidence.
Unlike the last edition in Pakistan in 2008, this one features only the four Test-playing Asian nations and no Associates, making it more competitive. India and Sri Lanka have bolstered their squads with senior players, after resting them for the tour of Zimbabwe which just concluded.
Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan captain who was rested for the tri-series in Zimbabwe, hoped his team would take inspiration from being the defending champions in the 2008 tournament.
"The Asia Cup (2008) final was won by two exceptional performances, one was Sanath Jayasuriya's freakish hundred when we were about 60-4, and when we were defending a score of 274, Ajantha Mendis came and took 6 for 13," Sangakkara said. "Today, we don't have either of them in our squad but that gives the opportunity for the rest of the players.
"In light of the World Cup being a few months away this tournament is about building confidence and building a team towards the World Cup."
Following their disappointing performance in Zimbabwe, where they failed to qualify for the final of the tri-series, India will start the tournament under pressure. However, their captain MS Dhoni said it was a scenario his team wasn't unfamiliar with.
"We've been in situations like this more than once," Dhoni said. "We have had to cope with pressure hundreds of times. We are fresh and most of the guys have got decent time off cricket and most of the senior guys were rested for the Zimbabwe tour.
"Every tournament you play is as important as the World Cup. It's important to focus on the present. The World Cup is still ten months away so we'll concentrate on this tournament which is a big one considering the teams that are participating are the big ones from the subcontinent."
His views were shared by Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, who leads his team in the tournament opener against Sri Lanka on Tuesday. "It is a preparation for the World Cup as well," Afridi said. "Tomorrow's game is very important. We are playing against Sri Lanka which is a good team and full of talent."
Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan backed his team to perform better in the one-dayers than they did in the Tests in England, where they lost 2-0. "We have been playing very good cricket, although we didn't finish well in England in the Tests," Shakib said. "We have been playing non-stop for the last 12 months. The boys are really looking forward to this tournament. It is very important for us. We know it's a very difficult task but not impossible. On our day we can beat any side."
Syed Ashraful Haq, Asian Cricket Council secretary, praised the Pakistan and Bangladesh Cricket Boards for altering their international schedules to participate in the Asia Cup. Pakistan had postponed their tour of England by about ten days and Bangladesh had agreed to split their tour of England.