Virat Kohli’s absence might have taken some sheen off it but the general excitement surrounding three possible Indo-Pak encounters will be the USP of the six-nation Asia Cup starting Saturday with a Bangladesh-Sri Lanka clash on Saturday.
While there are two assured India-Pakistan matches, one in the group league and other at the Super Four stage, the organisers, broadcasters, and the supporters will be hoping for a possible summit showdown on September 28 too.
For India, it will be a chance to see how the team reacts to pressure situations in absence of Kohli, who has been rested after a gruelling England tour, which ended with a 1-4 Test series loss earlier this week.
The team will begin its campaign on September 18 against Hong Kong, followed by the much-anticipated clash against Pakistan the next day.
While Rohit Sharma has been a brilliant white ball-player, his leadership skills haven’t been tested against a quality side. He led against Sri Lanka last December but it was a below par opposition. In fact, Bangladesh, with its resources, is a better 50-over side currently.
But the focal point would be how India India play a quality Pakistan side that has a world-class fast bowler in Mohammed Aamir, a solid all-rounder in Hasan Ali, a prolific opener in Fakhar Zaman and talented batsmen such as Babar Azam and Harris Sohail.
India’s main aim would be to settle their middle-order combination and also find a perfect batting position for Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the course of the tournament.
The Asia Cup has been a tournament where Bangladesh have done well over the years. During the last edition at home, they were in final although the event was competed in T20 format.
In 2012, they played the finals in the 50 over format.
The side under Mashrafe Mortaza has the wherewithal to compete in the 50-over format with a good bowling line-up for slower decks like the ones that will be on offer in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The batting comprises a mercurial Tamim Iqbal and the seasoned Mahmudullah Riyadh. Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan are fantastic on their days and the team would remain a dark horse in the tournament.
Sri Lanka is one team that India have been pitted against the most in the last 24 months across formats. The team’s transition phase is taking too long and internal issues like administration of the Board and pay disputes have plagued them for quite a while now.
However, they have a lot of experience in Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera and Lasith Malinga with youngsters such as Akila Dananjaya, Dasun Shanaka and Kasun Rajitha.
Sri Lanka’s problem has been their consistency and they will hope to do a course correction.
For Afghanistan, it will be a tournament to show that there is more to their side than a global T20 superstar in Rashid Khan. With the likes of Mohammed Shahzad in the line-up, the Afghans will be hoping to create an upset or two.
Last but not the least is Hong Kong, led by a player of Indian origin Anshuman Rath.
It is a team of semi-professional players, who migrated to the country in search of greener pastures. Their main aim would be to remain competitive as their matches have now been accorded ODI status.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur, Dinesh Karthik, Khaleel Ahmed.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain and wk), Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Harris Sohail, Imam ul Haq, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Mohammed Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammed Amir, Shoaib Malik, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (captain), 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 (captain), 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.
Afghanistan: Ashgar Afghan (captain), Mohammed Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Hasmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Munir Ahmed, Javed Ahmadi, Mohammed Nabi, Rahmat Shah, Gulbadan Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Zadran, Aftab Alam, Yasmin Ahmedzai, Sayed Shirzad.
Hong Kong: Anshuman Rath (captain), Aizaz Khan, Babar Hayat, Cameron McAulson, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Arshad Mohammed, Kinchit Shah, Nadeem Ahmed, Raag Kapur, Scott McKehnie, Tanvir Ahmed, Tanvir Afzal, Waqas Khan, Aftab Hussain.
All matches to start 5 pm IST.
(With PTI Inputs)