Asia Cup: World Cup countdown, renewal of Indo-Pak rivalry

No doubt that the scorching heat in the Gulf will be no similar to the conditions five of the six teams featuring in Asia Cup.

Though Virat Kohli has been rested, Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps will be a boost for stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma.   -  AFP

With T20 leagues mushrooming all over the globe, multi-nation ODI tournaments are getting as redundant as Associate teams in terms of making to the marquee events. No wonder then that when the Asia Cup has come calling – with a six-team format including an Associate – the hard-core cricket fanatics and connoisseurs alike will get a sense of deja vu.

But, more than the fact that India – which will be hosting the event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ensure participation of all the Asian giants, including Pakistan – will feature in a competitive game in the Gulf after 12 long years, the focus for the Asia Cup will obviously be on two important issues: the prelude to the next year's World Cup and the fact that India and Pakistan are all set to feature at least twice, possibly thrice, over the next fortnight.

After the Champions Trophy success, we had a meeting with the selectors and we have decided to continue with the same team. We don't want any changes to a winning combination and want to give confidence to our younger players. That's why you are seeing players like Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Fahim Ashraf getting opportunities and doing so well
- Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan captain on his team's revival since 2017 Champions Trophy

Past is passe. We just want to focus on the present and go out and play good cricket. Regardless of the opposition, we just want to play good cricket, be it Bangladesh or India or Pakistan. We want to play in spirit of cricket.
- Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka captain

I think all of us are very excited to be here. It's an honour and a privilege to be playing against these teams. We're just going to take it game by game. We are hungry, we have worked hard to get here and we'll just keep trying hard to impress the world
- Anshuman Rath, Hong Kong captain

Special congratulations to Hong Kong for making it to the Asia Cup but there are no favourites. All the teams are looking good and will give their best to win the title. We are excited to be here
- Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan captain

No doubt that the scorching heat in the Gulf will be no similar to the conditions five of the six teams featuring in Asia Cup, barring Hong Kong, will encounter in England for the World Cup in nine months. Still, the Asia Cup will in a way sound off the bugle for the final leg of preparations for the big-ticket even in 2019.

READ: Rohit Sharma, other limited overs specialists leave for Asia Cup 2018

While all the five teams will hope to try out a few different combinations with an eye on the World Cup, India, especially, will be hoping to resolve the middle-order puzzle. The fact that captain Virat Kohli has been rested to give him and his sour back some time off would mean Rohit Sharma, the captain for the tournament, will have two middle-order slots open. Ambati Rayudu, K.L. Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik – all of whom have been tried out in the middle order over the last couple of years – will be hoping to first be presented with an opportunity and then make a strong case to book a ticket on the plane to England.     

Irrespective of the combinations, the cricket fans, and the broadcaster, whose attempts to advance start timings for suiting India's television audience went in vain, will be eagerly awaiting India and Pakistan matches. The arch-rivals are placed in Group A, along with newbie Hong Kong, which won the qualifier tournament last week. The group stage will see Sharma's sergeants taking on Sarfraz Ahmed's Pakistan on Wednesday. And, unless Hong Kong eliminates either of the two giants, the two teams will square off, yet again, on September 23 in the Super 4 stage. 

But, considering the fact that India, having finished an arduous and disappointing tour to England barely a few hours days ago, will start its tournament only on September 18, the focus, for the time being, will on the other group, consisting of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see if Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can leave the distasteful events of its last meeting during Saturday's opener at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. In the Nidahas Trophy T20 tournament in March, the two teams were involved in an ugly spat that overshadowed a thrilling finish to the match.

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Squads:

Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Tamim Iqbal, Litton Kumar Das, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah Riyadh, Mominul Haque, Ariful Haque, Mohammed Mithun, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Mosaddek Hossain, Nazmul Islam, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Abu Hider Rony.

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Kasun Rajitha, Akila Dananjaya, Amila Aponso, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Dilruwan Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya.

On-field umpires: Marais Erasmus and C. Shamshuddin; Third umpire: Gregory Brathwaite; Match referee: David Boon.

Match starts: 5pm (IST).