Asia Cup 2018: Team India guide – SWOT analysis, predictions
India, under Rohit Sharma, will aim for a seventh Asia Cup title. @AFP

The Indian cricket team, sans Virat Kohli and led by Rohit Sharma, will begin its campaign at the 2018 Asia Cup, to be held in the UAE from September 15-28, against Hong Kong on September 18.

India are placed in Group A of the Asia Cup along with Pakistan and Hong Kong. Rohit’s team will  play Pakistan on September 19. The top two teams from each group will enter the Super Four, from which the final two will meet in Dubai for the final on September 28.

Here’s a look at India’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of the Asia Cup.

Squad make-up:

Batsmen: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu

Allrounders: Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel

Wicketkeepers: MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik

Fast bowlers: Jasprit Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur

Spinners: Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav

Rohit Sharma is the most successful batsman after MS Dhoni in India’s squad.
Rohit Sharma is the most successful batsman after MS Dhoni in India’s squad. @Getty

X-factor: KL Rahul and Rohit. Rahul’s white-ball form in 2018 has been a mixed bag, with nine runs in two ODIs and 238 in seven T20Is. He is coming off a poor Test series, in which he averaged 29.90 courtesy 149 in his 10th and final innings. But his batting assumes a different edge when he wears blue, and given his desire to cement a spot in India’s plans for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, there is a certain flair he brings which could prove lethal.

As for Rohit, he is the most successful batsman after MS Dhoni in India’s squad. Given the disappointment at being axed from India’s Test squad, Rohit has a point to prove and his experience and class could be the differentiator for India at the Asia Cup.

Strengths: In Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, India have reunited their white-ball spearheads which can only be good news. Add to that the wrist-spinning pair of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who took 33 wickets together in South Africa, and then gave England a tough time this summer, and India can boast a very potent spin attack, with Axar Patel as back-up and Kedar Jadhav’s round-arm rockets to boost. With the surfaces in the UAE expected to aid slow bowling, India have a spin attack to lead the way.

Weaknesses: In the absence of Kohli, India will be without their most successful batsman of the year. Kohli was hugely instrumental in India’s 5-1 ODI series win in South Africa in February, scoring 558 runs in six games with three centuries and a fifty. In England, where India lost 1-2 to India in the ODIs, Kohli made 75, 45 and 71. While Rohit will say that India have enough batting strength to cover for Kohli, the fact is that without their full-time skipper this team is vulnerable.

Will India feel the absence of Virat Kohli?
Will India feel the absence of their best batsman? @Getty

Head-to-Head: India have played 12 matches against Pakistan in the Asia Cup, winning six, losing five and with one no-result. During the last Asia Cup in 2016, which was a T20 format edition, India beat Pakistan by five wickets in the league stage. Against Hong Kong in the Asia Cup, India have a 1-0 record.

Prediction: If they can get past Pakistan, India have the potential to make the final. The last time India met Pakistan was the final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, where Fakhar Zaman’s century and Mohammad Amir’s removal of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli inside nine overs won the title for Sarfraz Ahmed’s team. Getting through Pakistan’s potent pace attack is the key to India’s title chances in the UAE.

Probable XI: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Fixtures: 

September 18 v Hong Kong, Dubai (5pm IST)

September 19 v Pakistan, Dubai (5pm IST)