India starts their Asia Cup defence against Hong Kong on Tuesday in Dubai and former Indian spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan has said that Rohit Sharma and his men should use the tournament to sort out combinations ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
In his column for the Times of India, Sivaramakrishnan wrote, "No side has held aloft the Asia Cup more often than India, the six-time winners. But while the defending champions, without regular skipper Virat Kohli, will seek to extend that streak to seven, their long-term plan must be to identify the combination that will do duty at the World Cup in England and Wales next summer. On the evidence of the fare they dished out in the tournament-opener against Pakistan on Sunday, Hong Kong are unlikely to run India close. Rohit Sharma, the stand-in captain, and coach Ravi Shastri should use Tuesday's match against the qualifiers, and the entire tournament as such, to obtain greater clarity in their bid to button down the ideal eleven for next year's showpiece showdown."
The former Indian skipper has went on further to say that the inclusion of Akshar Patel on the side will ease off the pressure from Hardik Pandya who he believes was taking that extra pressure as the only all-rounder in the team.
"It is imperative that, in the 20 or so matches before the World Cup, India continue to groom Pandya as the finisher. If he can bat consistently at No. 6, or towards the closing stages of the innings if the top-order has batted deep, it will give him a greater sense of comfort when the World Cup comes around. Pandya has shown that in white-ball cricket, he is a fearsome ball-striker. If he can marry his breathtaking strokeplay with enhanced consistency, it will make for a potent mix. Akshar's inclusion will in no way detract from the batting depth - Dhawan, Rohit obviously, KL Rahul, MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, and Pandya will be my top six," Sivaramakrishnan concluded.
India play Hong Kong and Pakistan on two back days. They play Hong Kong on Tuesday and Pakistan on Wednesday in a bid to get to the final four of the Asia Cup 2018.
(With TOI Inputs)