The subcontinent rivalry is all set to kick off in UAE as the teams will battle against each other to get hold of the Asia cup 2018. It’s a unique festival for the cricket fans since it is a separate tournament with more than two teams. Gone are those days when teams used to play tri-series and Quadrangular tournaments. Tournaments were more common during the 80s and 90s which attracted a larger fan base to ODIs. Tournaments also had those net run rates and knock out pressure adding more spice to the competitions than a ODI series (with exceptions) that leads to a dead rubber. Tri-series, even if hosted these days, are between 2 top ranked sides and a scapegoated low ranked team, thus making it more predictable.
It’s also a welcome tournament for India and Pakistan, who gets to face-off against each other at least once in 2 years. Due to political tensions, the 2 countries aren’t able to tour the respective countries. An India-Pakistan clash is a treat for fans across either side of the border. The arch-rivals are now comfortably placed in Group B and both these teams will meet again for the first time since the Champions Trophy 2017 finals. India were considered favourites to win that trophy, due to its convincing victory against Pakistan during the league match in Edgbaston but the latter bounced back and won the finals comfortably. The absence of Virat Kohli in Asia cup might disappoint the fans, but an India-Pakistan encounter is never short of drama. Right from Harbhajan’s last over six to Amir’s breathtaking spells, the contest has lived up to its expectations.
Another reason to cheer for Asia cup is the advent of new comers like Afghanistan, UAE (who played the tournament in previous editions) and Hong Kong. Starting from the initial edition, the tournament was dominated by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is now constantly improving its game and have come closer to clinching the trophies in 2014 and 2016 before getting defeated by Pakistan and India in the respective editions. They played some decent cricket in 2015 World cup and 2017 Champions Trophy by reaching the knock out stages of the tournaments. They are known for surprising their opponents and will be a key nation to look out for. One must appreciate Hong Kong who had worked hard to seal its spot in Group B. Hong Kong, whose ODI status had been stripped, will now meet opponents that boasts the presence of players like Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni and Mohammed Amir. Afghanistan has already gained a test status and are ready to perform in big stage. Unfortunately, UAE will miss out playing the tournament as it failed to defeat Hong Kong in the finals of Asia cup Qualifier and will just play the role of a host for the rest of the teams. This will be the third time UAE will host the Asia Cup since its inception. As seen on The Cricket Blog, the tournament was previously held there in 1984 and 1995 with India defeating Sri Lanka on the finals of both the occasions.
Nothing to take away from Hong Kong, but India and Pakistan are clear favourites from Group B as Hong Kong is still an improving team. They have worked hard to qualify and it will be interesting to see if they can give a tough fight to its opponents. Teams in Group A are perfectly flawed in such a way that the next 2 teams from this group are unpredictable. Sri Lanka had tough times in ODIs during the past 2 years. Injuries to Chandimal and Dhanushka will be a big blow but return of Malinga and the presence of skipper Angelo Mathews will boost some confidence into the Sri Lankan camp. Bangladesh has given good starts in tournaments but failed to capitalise on knock out stages. Shakib’s injury will also be a concern for the team. Afghanistan has a good T20 history against Bangladesh and has recently defeated Ireland. They have a strong bowling line up, especially in spin department with the presence of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb and Nabi, but it is just a matter of time to wait and see if their inexperience will hurt them or not.
The tournament will be a good exposure for the teams to analyse their strengths and weakness before the world cup gets closer. It’s going to be an exciting tournament for the next 2 weeks in UAE as the top ranked India and Pakistan would look for a perfect combination while the emerging teams like Bangladesh and Afghanistan would want to compete harder and send a strong message.