Dubai: As simple as the flicking of a switch or the changing of channels with the press of a button on your remote, Indian fans will be transported from the relatively cool heat-wave climes of England, where India lost 1-4, to Dubai, where it will be 40 degrees centigrade in the shade, the cricket balls white and kit blue.
The Asia Cup 2018 is upon us even before the post mortems of the England tour have been completed and such is the lot of the modern cricketer. There is little time to breathe, much less savour a moment or anticipate the coming of another.
Yet, India have one major advantage in that at least two of its key 50-over cricketers did not feature in the England Tests. Rohit Sharma, the captain, standing in for Virat Kohli, who takes a well-deserved break, has been out of favour for five-day cricket and Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave up the longest version of the game a fair while ago.
Like with the other changes, this change in captaincy will show in day-to-day operations. Where Kohli is aggressive, expressive and occasionally in your face, Rohit exudes an air of laid-back calm. Rohit is no less intense than Kohli when it comes to wanting to win, but his demeanour is such that he is rarely ever remonstrative, and just as he seems to have oodles of time when at the crease, his actions on the field appear to take place in slow motion.
The presence of Dhoni is another factor that is bound to lend calm. In 50-over cricket, there is no better tactician and operator than Dhoni. Whether plotting a chase, setting a field or working out a batsman, Dhoni does his work using the fewest words possible and digging deep into a wealth of experience.
But, the Asia Cup is not about India alone. In fact, the tournament would be just another slam-bang affair if not for the match India will play on September 19, against Pakistan. Indian fans of a certain age have grown up in the shadow of an intense and sometimes bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan, caused more by geo-politics than cricket but in recent times India-Pakistan clashes have become all too rare.
The two teams don’t play each other in bilateral series because of the political situation and International Cricket Council events do not come soon enough to fulfil the appetite there is for these matches. For Pakistan, who unfortunately don’t play cricket at home, the United Arab Emirates is a second home and they will not be short on support. Tickets for this match have already been sold out, and Dubai is perhaps the one neutral venue in the world where Indian fans will not hugely outnumber Pakistani supporters.
The tournament is a critical one for Sri Lanka as well, a team that has flown largely under the radar because it lacks the big-name players and stars that grab the headlines. Playing against India and Pakistan and the others in this tournament under the glare of the bright lights is a chance for Sri Lanka to show what they are made of.
Then you have Bangladesh, who have been spoiling for a fight each time they have played India over the last two years. Most recently they were well on the way to victory in the final of the Nidahas Trophy in Colombo before Dinesh Karthik turned the game around in eight explosive balls. The Bangladesh team will have revenge on the mind, and Mashrafe Mortaza, the captain, has already laid down the gauntlet, saying that his team has it in them to go all the way in the tournament. Talking the talk is one thing, however, and it won’t be easy for Bangladesh to brush aside India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, despite the huge leaps of improvement they have made in the shorter versions of the game.
Last, but certainly not least, is Afghanistan, perhaps the most popular team in world cricket at the moment, if you are a neutral observer. The Afghans lost a Test in India inside two days, but in shorter formats they are a dangerous team. They have attacking spinners with variety, quick bowlers who land a heavy ball and batsmen who believe attack is the only way to play. Whether they win or lost, they are not going to be tentative, that’s for sure.
As always, India will believe that they start as favourites, but Pakistan will know that things are slightly different in the UAE. And the rest? They’re not there just to make up the numbers, that's for sure.