Asia’s big four launch ICC World Cup 2010 preparations

Asia’s Test-playing nations begin their preparations for next year’s ICC World Cup 2011 when they contest the region’s top one-day prize from Tuesday.

Away from the global spotlight on the football World Cup in South Africa, the four-nation Asia Cup will be played in Sri Lanka over the next 10 days.

India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who co-host the World Cup in February-April, will be joined by Pakistan in a round-robin preliminary league with the top two teams contesting the final on June 24.

“This is a good chance to test our strengths and weaknesses and also see how the others are faring on the way to the World Cup,” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said.

India go into the tournament in the central town of Dambulla hoping to make amends for their failure to reach the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean.

A second-string side then lost twice to hosts Zimbabwe in a recent one-day tri-series also featuring Sri Lanka, exposing a weak bench that does not augur well for the World Cup.

India, who face Bangladesh in their first match on Wednesday, are without veteran Sachin Tendulkar, the world’s most prolific Test and one-day batsman, who opted to rest ahead of a busy season.

Also missing is one-day regular Yuvraj Singh, who was dropped due to poor form after scoring just 74 runs in five World Twenty20 matches. In five One-Day Internationals this year, the left-hander has managed only 96 runs.

Pakistan, preparing to clash with holders Sri Lanka in Tuesday’s opener, have recalled mercurial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar for the first time since May last year when he was sidelined with a knee injury.

Flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi leads a talented Pakistani squad which includes three promising batsmen in Umar Amin, 21, Shahzaib Hasan, 20, and Asad Shafiq, 24.

Sri Lanka, who won the last Asia Cup in Pakistan two years ago, have left out ageing batsman Sanath Jayasuriya and unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis for the tournament.

Jayasuriya, who turns 41 later this month, is the most experienced one-day batsman in the world with 444 appearances and second in the leading scorers’ list with 13,428 runs behind Tendulkar’s 17,598.

But a woeful average of 3.75 in six matches at the World Twenty20 forced his exclusion for the Asia Cup and raised doubts over the left-hander’s future ahead of the World Cup.

Bangladesh hope to regroup on the slow Dambulla wickets after being beaten by England in both Tests on seam-friendly tracks at Lord’s and Old Trafford.

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