To suit the demands of the international cricket calendar, the Asia Cup has morphed into a flexible tournament. The first 12 editions of the tournament were held in the 50-over ODI format, until it was decided in 2016 to play the tournament on a rotation basis between T20I and ODI.
And thus, with the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup scheduled to commence in a little less than two months, it only makes sense that the continental championship follows the shortest format.
The 15th edition of the Asia Cup will begin with a Group B match between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium here on Saturday. Most of the tournament matches will be held at this venue, while the second venue — Sharjah Cricket Stadium — will host two group games and one Super Four outing.
India, which won the previous 2018 Asia Cup ODI edition, sits with Pakistan and Hong Kong in Group A. Regardless of the result of the much-anticipated India-Pakistan clash on Sunday, both sides should have little trouble qualifying for the Super Four stage.
It is almost certain that the arch rivals, set to finish as the best two in their group, will face each other for a second time in the Super Four.
India will hope that batter Virat Kohli turns the corner with a few big knocks. With the team management, led by skipper Rohit Sharma, keen on adopting an attacking brand of cricket, the onus is on the top-order of Rohit, K.L. Rahul and Kohli to come out blazing.
Pakistan, semifinalist at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup last year, depends heavily on Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan. Azam, in particular, will look to add weight to his burgeoning reputation as a world-class batter.
Hong Kong earned the right to rub shoulders with the big guns by winning the qualifier tournament in Oman.
Group B, comprising Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, presents a more even contest. Sri Lanka, having exited in the group stage in the previous two editions, will hope for a better show.
In Wanindu Hasaranga, the Lankans have a potent T20 cricketer who can win matches with his spin and lower-order batting. The second spinner, Maheesh Theekshana, can be useful in the PowerPlay.
With many of its players gaining experience in T20 leagues around the world, Afghanistan has what it takes to spring a surprise. The core strength lies in its spin attack of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. An inconsistent batting line-up, however, poses concerns.
On current form, Bangladesh sticks out as the weakest. The Tigers come in on the back of successive T20I series losses, against Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Experienced all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan returns as captain, after Nurul Hasan, Mosaddek Hossain and Mahmudullah took their shot at leadership.
The men’s T20 World Cup held here last year showed that the toss plays a crucial factor in the outcome of the match. A clear winning formula emerged — win the toss, field first, and exploit the night dew when chasing.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Deepak Hooda, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan. Standby: Shreyas Iyer, Axar Patel, Deepak Chahar.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir.
Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (c), Anamul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain, Mahmudullah, Mahedi Hasan, Mohammad Saifuddin, Hasan Mahmud, Mustafizur Rahman, Nasum Ahmed, Sabbir Rahman, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Ebadot Hossain, Parvez Hossain Emon, Nurul Hasan Sohan, Taskin Ahmed.
Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Ashen Bandara, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Chamika Karunaratne, Dilshan Madushanka, Matheesha Pathirana, Nuwanidu Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (C), Najibullah Zadran (VC), Afsar Zazai (WK), Azmatullah Omarzai, Farid Ahmad Malik, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Ibrahim Zadran, Karim Janat, Mujib ur Rahman, Naveen ul Haq, Noor Ahmad, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari and Usman Ghani.
Hong Kong: Nizakat Khan (c), Kinchit Shah, Zeeshan Ali, Haroon Arshad, Babar Hayat, Aftab Hussain, Ateeq Iqbal, Aizaz Khan, Ehsan Khan, Scott McKechnie (wk), Ghazanfar Mohammad, Yasim Murtaza, Dhananjay Rao, Wajid Shah, Ayush Shukla, Ahan Trivedi, Mohammad Waheed.