Mirpur: India enter the final phase of their preparations for next month's World Twenty20 with the Asia Cup starting tomorrow but a cloud of uncertainty over skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's availability threatens to disturb the side's momentum going into the tournament-opener against Bangladesh here.
M S Dhoni
Dhoni has suffered a muscle spasm during the team's training session yesterday, prompting the BCCI to rush Parthiv Patel as his back-up. The skipper's fitness is a concern going into tomorrow's match against the sprightly hosts, who have built a reputation of being giant-slayers on more than one occasion.
The continental championship will be played in a Twenty20 format from the usual ODI keeping the World T20 in mind and the need for the Asian teams to get some much-needed match time before the marquee event starts next month.
For India, who are considered as title contenders, a good Asia Cup performance will give them the much-needed boost going into the World T20.
While Dhoni has always stated that "revenge is a very strong word in sport" but the Indian team will be keen to get even against a strong Bangladesh side that beat them fair and square in a three-ODI series at the same venue last year under hostile circumstances with a partisan crowd backing its team.
This was against the backdrop of the controversial Rohit Sharma decision during the quarter-final of the 50-over World Cup in Melbourne. The ODI series last year saw the emergence of left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahaman, who bamboozled the Indian batsmen with his variations. This tournament will also give 'Men in Blue' an opportunity to crack the 'Mustafizur Code', having failed miserably the last time round.
The Indians have started their T20 preparations in right earnest having won back-to-back series against Australia 'Down Under' and Sri Lanka at home. In the six T20 internationals played this year, India have won five of them with the only defeat coming against Sri Lanka on an unusual Pune pitch in the last series.
If India reach the finals of the Asia Cup, it will be another five T20 matches, taking the number of matches to 11 before the start of the World T20, and according to Team Director Ravi Shastri would be "just what the doctor ordered".
The team under Dhoni has looked set in the shortest format but the real test starts with the Asia Cup as the business end of the preparations commences.
Momentum will be key from now onwards and Dhoni's men will be keen to seize the initial advantage even though it won't be easy by any means against a Bangladesh side, which will be more than a handful on home soil.
The Indian captain has indicated that he will like to give game time to all the 15 players in the squad although it is the winning combination that is expected to play against Bangladesh tomorrow.
The batting order looks set with the tried and tested combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma at the top of the order. Virat Kohli comes back at No. 3 after a much needed three-week break from cricket post Australia tour.
India's premier shortest format specialist Suresh Raina will be at No. 4 followed by Yuvraj Singh, who is slowly coming back in his elements, since that last over six in Sydney.
Ravindra Jadeja and the big-hitting Hardik Pandya make it a strong top eight for India as far as batting in the T20 format is concerned. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah complete the line-up. Bumrah, however, did not train yesterday and team sources said he is a "little under the weather and advised rest".
The batting order may have a lean day in office here and there otherwise are in an "auto-pilot mode". But the Indian bowling will certainly be expected to get its act together on sluggish sub-continental pitches with Ashwin being the leader of the attack.