The organisers and broadcasters may have salivated at the possibility of three India-Pakistan matches in the Asia Cup but the third one, the final, is a non-starter. Instead, Bangladesh, ravaged by the injuries to their top players, have strode into their third Asia Cup final in the last four editions. Their dismantling of Pakistan in the do-or-die Super Four encounter on Wednesday confirmed that come the final, they will be as prepared as India.
Mushfiqur Rahim, who steered Bangladesh's batting in the absence of Tamim Iqbal in the earlier part of the tournament, once again proved to be their pillar against Pakistan, in which they were also without Shakib Al Hasan. Mahmudullah and Mohammad Mithun have also supported him, while Mashrafe Mortaza has led the bowling attack quite wisely, particularly with Mustafizur Rahman rising as a bowling leader. Mehidy Hasan has given them good starts too with the new ball. Bangladesh would need their bowling trio to be at their best against a tough as teak India top order.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will be key wickets for Bangladesh, as they are among the top three run-getters in the tournament. Dhawan, who has scored two centuries so far, has looked a completely different batsman than the one who struggled against the red ball in England. Top-order runs have been a given for India in the tournament so far, which is why Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jhadav must remain vigilant if they are required for a bigger role in the final.
India's bowling has kept most batting line-ups quiet in the tournament. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have looked in control, while the spin from Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Jadhav has claimed 23 scalps at an average of 25.26 and an economy of 4.17. They will pose a big threat to Bangladesh's batting line-up, particularly the top order that hasn't contributed much in the tournament.
Any three of Liton Das, Soumya Sarkar, Mosaddek Hossain, Mominul Haque and Nazmul Hossain Shanto will be playing in the final, although all come with questions attached. Liton has scored the most runs among the five, but he dropped two catches against Pakistan after replacing Mushfiqur as wicketkeeper. Soumya and Mosaddek have been out of the runs for a long time, while Shanto has totalled only 20 in his three innings.
So far, Bangladesh's senior batsmen haven't let an unsettled top-order deter them. But in the final, the pressure will be at a different level. How they manage to tackle India's strong bowling attack will be the major battle within the battle. Also, it will make for interesting viewing should an in-form Bangladesh bowling attack trouble India's top order.
India might be the higher-ranked team, but, in the final, it seems like a battle of equals is in the offing.
India TWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Mohammad Mithun's calm under pressure against Pakistan saw him reaching his second half-century in the tournament. If presented with the opportunity, Mithun should look to extend his stay beyond the 60s.
Memories of Dinesh Karthik's last-ball six in the Nidahas Trophy final in March will be fresh in Bangladesh's mind. Karthik, who has made 109 runs in four innings so far, will also be keeping that blustery innings in mind while taking the field on Friday.
A full-strength India means the return of Rohit, Dhawan, Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar and Chahal to the XI. Therefore, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar and Siddarth Kaul will have to make way.
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Bangladesh are unlikely to change their bowling attack, comprising three seamers, one front-line offspinner and three part-time bowling options. But what will they do about their underperforming top three? Will they give Liton, Soumya or Mominul another game?
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Liton Das 2 Soumya Sarkar, 3 Mominul Haque, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mohammad Mithun, 6 Imrul Kayes, 7 Mahmudullah, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 9 Mehidy Hasan, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Pitch and conditions
Keeping their players away from the oppressive heat during the daytime has been one of the reasons for captains to bat first in this tournament. But, in Dubai, the sides chasing have won more games. The weather will be no different in the final, with a maximum temperature of 41 degrees.
Stats and trivia
Three more wickets will take Mustafizur ahead of Rashid Khan, who has taken ten wickets, as the tournament's leading wicket-taker.
India's openers have averaged 89.12 in ten combined innings in the tournament, while Bangladesh's openers average 9.11 in the same number of innings.
"Actions are stronger than words, they [Bangladesh] have got better and they are showing it through their performances. They have experienced players, they know their game, they know the strategies and how to play under pressure. They don't have the dilemma and pressure of playing against a big team, which is very good for cricket."
India opener Shikhar Dhawan on Bangladesh's recent progress
"Firstly, I don't see myself as so cheap that I would judge myself on a trophy. Secondly, I have not played cricket for a trophy. A trophy is very important at one stage, and I believe one day Bangladesh will win one. It's important because it will boost the young generation coming into cricket. So in that sense you can say that Bangladesh need a trophy, but it's not that it has to be tomorrow. And from a personal standpoint, if you judge Mashrafe based on a trophy that is up to you, but I don't see myself as that cheap."
Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza