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Time for new-look India to take up the challenge

Lasith Malinga, during the Asia Cup opener, on Tuesday

Calcutta/Fatullah: The disappointments of South Africa and New Zealand are on a retreat as India are back in familiar conditions, ready for their opening match of the Asia Cup, against Bangladesh, at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium, in Fatullah.

The uncertainties of the foreign shores will no longer haunt them, giving them a chance to reclaim honour, forcing criticisms to take temporary leave.

But while the opportunity of regaining the winners’ tag is there, the job will not at all be easy for this Team India, for though they have an aura of freshness around them, they are, at the same time, short on experience.

Bangladesh may still not belong to the elite league, but they are no pushovers either. And at home, they do play like tigers — the last edition of the Asia Cup in 2012 had proved that when they were stopped just three runs short of the title.

The two teams had a memorable contest in the last Asia Cup. The Indians remember that tie for Sachin Tendulkar’s momentous hundredth hundred while the Bangladeshis would never forget the way their team chased down 290 to record a stunning victory.

However, multiple controversies have rocked the Bangladesh camp of late and it may benefit the Indians, who are yet to register a victory this year.

From key all-rounder Shakib-al Hasan being suspended for disciplinary reasons to captain Mushfiqur Rahim making his complaint about the selection process public, the Bangladesh cricket team isn’t really at peace.

Add to that the absence of the experienced Tamim Iqbal, who is out of the tournament with a neck strain. Also, there are doubts over the fitness of pacer Mashrafe Mortaza, who has a swollen knee, and Mushfiqur, who is nursing an injured finger that had kept him out of the two T20 Internationals against Sri Lanka earlier this month.

All these may combine to give India a good chance of making a winning start, even though they would miss regular captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s assuring presence amongst them. Virat Kohli will lead the side in place of Dhoni, who is out with a side-strain.

Not only Dhoni, there’s no Suresh Raina either. The left-handed batsman has been dropped because of poor form.

The Indian middle-order thus looks inexperienced and the onus will once again be on Kohli to deliver.

But that’s nothing new for the stylish right-handed batsman. He has been the mainstay of Indian batting for quite some time now. Against Bangladesh, Kohli averages a staggering 123.33. And in Bangladesh, it goes up further to 179.50.

Importantly, Kohli was the leading run-scorer in the previous Asia Cup, which too was played in Bangladesh.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s inclusion, though, should lend some stability to the middle order. It will a test for Pujara, just that it wont be in a Test. With Kohli at No. 3 and Ajinkya Rahane at No. 4, it remains to be seen where Pujara is accommodated in the batting order.

Much of the focus will also be on ’keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik. Known as a hard-hitting batsman, his reputation received a shot when he commanded a sum of Rs 12.50 crore in the recent IPL auction.

The pitch will be a flat deck and the Indian bowling attack, seen by many as the team’s weakness, will have to be careful with their act. India are likely to play with three seamers and a lone specialist spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin. But then, Ravindra Jadeja is more than a part-time bowler, so Kohli will not be short on options.

Apart from the individual performances, a lot of focus will also be on Kohli's captaincy.

He has proved his mettle as a batsman, being the most prolific scorer for India over the last two years or so. And that has only increased expectations from the 25-year-old, seen by many as the future captain of India.

This will be Kohli's first proper test as a captain. The last time he led in a full series was against Zimbabwe, who hardly posed a challenge.

But in the Asia Cup, the competition is many notches higher and Kohli will have to be on alert to ensure success.

He has a young team at his disposal and so one assumes that he will be in total command. If he manages to keep a steady head in crunch situations, there's no reason why the nation can't weave dreams around the young man.

India (likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane/Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik , Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron

Match starts: 1.30pm (IST)