DUBAI: Group B of the 2018 Asia Cup starts with a proper ‘David v Goliath’ battle, one between a former world champion and two-time Asia cup winner against a team filled with semi-professionals forming a unit which is yet to be upgraded to ODI status.
Pakistan will begin their campaign with a clash against lowly Hong Kong, who have done exceptionally well to just reach the tournament proper, having qualified after beating Nepal and the United Arab Emirates, two teams with ODI status. For Hong Kong, there’s an added incentive, the matches against Pakistan and India will be counted as full internationals and as such a good showing here could only enhance their CVs.
Pakistan are coming off an extended break and the Asia Cup starts a hectic period for them with home series against Australia and New Zealand looming, followed by a full tour of South Africa, the annual Pakistan Super League (PSL) and the season-ending 2019 World Cup in England. As such, Mickey Arthur’s men would be keen to get off to a solid start and as the Hong Kong clash could just be ideal to dust the cobwebs off early.
Pakistan’s last international assignment was in Zimbabwe in July this year, a series dominated by their batsman, notably, Fakhar Zaman, who smashed 515 runs at an imposing average of 257.5. Having earned his stripes during the 2017 Champions Trophy, Zaman has now become the marked man amongst the opposition ranks. While the left-handed opener has deservedly taken all the plaudits, Pakistan’s batting order has a lot more than just him. Imam-ul-Haq enjoyed a run-laden series against Zimbabwe, as did the highly-rated Babar Azam. Throw in the all-round potential of Shoaib Malik and Faheem Ashraf, Pakistan’s batting looks mighty effective.
Pakistan’s strength has always revolved around their bowling and with as many as six pacers in the fray, they might well adopt a revolving door policy to counter the heat and humidity of Dubai. Add Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and the recent 50-over form to the mix, you’d know why they are being tipped as the early favorites. The game against Hong Kong, who despite their credentials, are only expected to make the numbers might just be the right way to prepare for arch-rivals India, who they are expected to face at least twice, if not thrice, during the course of the tournament.
Under the scorching sun, expect Pakistan batsmen to make hay, especially if they bat first. Having come off a long break, Pakistan would most likely field the same XI that beat Zimbabwe so convincingly. On pitches that are expected to be slow and low, Shadab Khan could likely be the lone spinner with Faheem Ashraf edging out Mohammad Nawaz for the all-rounder spot.
Hong Kong are unlikely to tinker with the playing XI that served them so well in the qualifiers that were played last month in Kaula Lumpur.
Pakistan have faced off Hong Kong twice before in ODIs - both in Asia Cup. In 2004, Pakistan won by 173 runs while in 2008 the winning margin was 155 runs. Babar Azam needs 27 more runs in his next innings to become the joint-second fastest to 2000 ODIs runs (45 innings).
Pakistan have had four 100+ opening stands in ODIs in 2018 - the joint most for them in a calendar year. They have had four each in 1993, 1996, 2003 and 2015.
Probable XI: Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Khan (c & wk), Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Usman Khan Shinwari.
Probable XI: Nizakat Khan, Anshuman Rath (c), Babar Hayat, Kinchit Shah, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Aizaz Khan, Scott McKechnie (wk), Tanwir Afzal, Ehsan Nawaz, NadeemAhmed.