Mushfiqur Rahim and Virat Kohli's pathways may not have intertwined much in world cricket -- they only faced each other six times -- but there remains a host of similarities in their growth in this arena. Both Mushfiqur and Kohli captained their respective Under-19 teams and were earmarked for progress into the senior line-up from a very early age. While Mushfiqur had made his debut in the national side while an under 19 player, Kohli donned the blue jersey in 2008, the same year he led India Under-19 to a youth world cup win.
At 25, both these players hold the key to their respective batting line-ups and have tasted what it's like to lead an international team. Despite similar career graphs, these players have turned out to be two completely different cricketers -- an aspect that was clearly reflected during the Asia Cup.
While Kohli's batting statistics no doubt paint a rosier picture, it was however his aggression on the field as a captain that seems to be more conspicuous by its absence from Mushfiqur's armoury.
Despite uncharacteristically faltering against both Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the bat, it was India's weaker facet -- their bowling -- that fired and took both those games down to the wire; and Kohli's aggressive captaincy on the field, played an important role on both occasions.
Some of his tactics included flooding the batsmen with close-in fielders and plugging the singles during crucial moments. The game against Sri Lanka for instance, saw him greet captain Angelo Mathews with two slips and a silly point. Against Pakistan, where his opponents had a seemingly easy task of scoring 67 off the last ten overs with six wickets in hand, he brought the fielders in and compelled both Mohammad Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood to play aggressive shots. Hafeez and Maqsood, despite a comfortable asking rate, smacked sixes in the first three overs and then eventually perished in the next two and that's when the collapse began. In both the matches it was the pressure built during the chase that led to the batsmen's collapse.
As was seen in the last couple of games attacking the batsmen is not one of Mushfiqur's stronger suits. In the game against Afghanistan, where the visitors were struggling at 90 for 5, Mushfiqur decided to bowl his part-timers and save his attacking bowlers for the batting Powerplay. The field too was spread out, with the consistent placements of either a long-off or long-on.
The captain similarly lacked a killer-instinct in the first game against Sri Lanka in the ODI series that preceded the Asia Cup, when he decided to take Shakib Al Hasan and Arafat Sunny off at a time when the visitors were struggling at 67 for 8, and eventually paid the price.
There's no question about Mushfiqur's batting consistency or his commitment to the team, he has by far been the best player on those fronts. It is however his tendency to become too defensive too early in the game that has been a problem of late. The defensive attitude could also be the result of a string of defeats -- he has not had such a bad run since he took over the captaincy. If that be the case, then winning either of the remaining games will be extremely crucial; not just for the Asia Cup, but for the sake of the team's future.