Will Team India return to winning ways in Asia Cup?
Humiliated and win-less for quite a while, a bruised Indian cricket team will be hoping to rediscover its winning ways in a five-way battle for regional supremacy in the 12th Asia Cup.
India were thoroughly embarrassed on their recent trips to South Africa and New Zealand, failing to win a single match in any format. Now they are up for another tough challenge when they square off against arch-rivals Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and debutants Afghanistan in the subcontinent's premier ODI event.
Captained by Virat Kohli, in the absence of an injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India, a record five-time Asia Cup champions, can hardly be considered favourites this time around given the way they have faltered in recent months.
The struggles in South Africa and New Zealand have laid bare the team's bowling frailties and the over-reliance on Kohli in the batting department.
Image: Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli
Photographs: Getty Images
Karthik has replaced Dhoni in the squad
They kick-off their campaign on Wednesday with a relatively easy match against hosts Bangladesh in Fatullah.
But, once again, the bestseller of the biennial tournament will be the India-Pakistan marquee match in Mirpur on March 2, when the two traditional foes renew their intense cricketing rivalry.
Pakistan will face Sri Lanka in the tournament-opener in Fatullah on Tuesday.
Without the finishing ability of Dhoni, it will be interesting to see how the new-look middle-order -- comprising Ajinkya Rahane, wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik and Cheteshwar Pujara -- performs in the slog overs.
After being made captain as Dhoni's replacement in a tri-series in the West Indies, Kohli began with a loss, but since then he has been on a roll with seven straight wins.
Image: Dinesh Karthik
'I've only been captain for about eight games till now'
That five of the seven wins came against minnows Zimbabwe tells a different story and Kohli will have a completely different challenge this time.
"I've only been captain for about eight games till now… It went pretty good but this is a big tournament, a challenge I'm looking forward to," Kohli, who had led the India Under-19 team to the World Cup triumph in 2008, said after arriving in Dhaka on Sunday.
He had a dream run in the last Asia Cup, scoring the tournament's highest (185) against Pakistan and was the leading run-getter, but India missed the final berth after losing to Bangladesh.
It was in the same match, the now-retired Indian cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar notched his 100th international century, incidentally his last.
Image: Virat Kohli
Sangakkara the one to watch out for
Having arrived in Bangladesh in late January for a full series which they won comfortably (1-0 in Tests, 2-0 in T20s and 3-0 in ODIs), four-time champions Sri Lanka start as favourites in the 50-over tournament that is a lead-up for the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.
Senior Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara will be the one to watch out for given the fine form he is in. With his first triple century followed by a second innings ton in the Test series, the 36-year-old is in sublime touch.
In One-dayers too, Sangakkara is in blistering form, as his century helped Sri Lanka clinch the series. He will look to ensure that his team makes amends for failing to win a single match in the previous edition of the tournament, which was also in Bangladesh.
Image: Kumar Sangakkara
'It's always a big challenge to play against India'
Unlike India, Sri Lanka is not short on experience in batting, with senior players like Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and batting all-rounder Angelo Matthews leading the side.
However, the Lankans will miss veteran Tillakartne Dilshan, who was ruled out after picking a finger injury.
Lahiru Thirimanne has been included as his replacement.
Fourth-ranked Sri Lanka have a chance to displace India from second spot in the rankings by winning all their matches, including the final, in the Asia Cup.
But if India wins even one of their matches, they will hold on to their ranking ahead of the April 1 cut-off date.
As for Pakistan, the defending champions, the most sought after match will be the one against India when the two arch-rivals meet for the first time after the ICC Champions Trophy, which Dhoni's men had won in a rain-affected match.
"It's always a big challenge to play against India because there is so much interest in the game. India are a formidable side and we have to be at our best to win," Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said ahead of their tournament-opener against Sri Lanka.
Image: Misbah-ul Haq