The Asia Cup is back on the international calendar after a four-year hiatus, with the last tournament being held in 2018. This will be the 15th edition of the Asia Cup, which will see six teams compete to be crowned the best side in Asia. The five confirmed teams are India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, while the 6th team will be finalized through a qualifier played between UAE, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The tournament will be contested in the shortest format in preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year, which has also been done in the 2016 edition. The tournament was supposed to be held in Sri Lanka, but mass protests across the country due to an economic crisis meant that the tournament had to be shifted to the UAE. The Dubai International Cricket Stadium and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium will host all the matches.
Exciting matches to look forward to
Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Kuwait have already released their squads for the multi-nation tournament. The big guns are back for India, with Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul picked in the squad, while Jasprit Bumrah is out due to a back injury. India are once again the hot favourites going into the tournament due to the sheer amount of strength and depth on their side. Their bench strength is frightening, to say the least, with the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson not even making it into the squad.
All eyes will once again be on Virat Kohli, who has struggled for form throughout the year. It will be a good opportunity for him and KL Rahul as well to get some runs under their belt in what could be some good batting conditions. It will also be the final chance for some of the fringe players in Deepak Hooda, Ravi Bhishnoi, and Arshdeep Singh to stake their claim for the World Cup.
Pakistan, meanwhile, has taken a different route compared to India, picking a host of fast bowlers in their squad. The notable exclusion is that of Hasan Ali, who has been dropped in favor of youngster Naseem Shah. Babar Azam will lead his nation for the 2nd time in a multi-nation event and the first time in the Asia Cup.
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The men in green will pose the biggest threat to India’s stronghold on the Asia Cup. After finally breaking their World Cup duck against India last year and making the semifinals, Pakistan will be hopeful of their chances this time around. They have won six of their seven T20I’s since the World Cup, including 3-0 clean sweeps against the West Indies and fellow subcontinent competitor Bangladesh.
With Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan and Asif Ali in the batting department, and Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan in the bowling ranks, Pakistan is a dangerous T20 outfit.
All the best hopes for Pakistan
While Pakistan and India are genuine contenders, it will be interesting to see how the underdogs Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh fare. Sri Lanka has had some very poor results in the shortest format since the last World Cup and is yet to win a T20I rubber. Their form may be dismal but they have one of the best spinners going around in Wanindu Hasaranga and a mystery spinner in Mahesh Theekshana. With surfaces likely to aid the tweakers in the UAE, these two will be a handful to face for any team.
Bangladesh’s fortunes in the two white-ball formats couldn’t be more contrasting. While their ODI side has grown leaps and bounds, the T20I side has been lagging behind. Impressive ODI series victories against South Africa and West Indies have been followed by T20I losses against Pakistan, West Indies and even Zimbabwe. They will have a hard time facing the likes of India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, can be considered the dark horse of the tournament, capable of causing an upset or two. They performed very well in the last Asia Cup and T20 cricket is their strongest suit out of the three formats. Although winning the tournament might be a bridge too far, they can still qualify for the Super Four.
Muhammad Adnan is a journalist and researcher. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.