Asia Cup - main image
India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and a qualifier will contest the 15th Asia Cup cricket tournament in Dubai and Sharjah. It will be a T20 format since it comes ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia. Image Credit: Gulf News

The Asia Cup gets underway in the UAE on August 27 in a Twenty20 format with Sri Lanka crossing swords with Afghanistan in Dubai. That’s a prelude to a high-voltage clash between India and Pakistan the following day. More thrilling games are expected as Bangladesh try to steal a march over the famed rivals in the subcontinent. Hong Kong, which won the qualifiers in Muscat, will be the sixth team.

Here’s a look at the tournament, its origins, past winners and the picks of Gulf News' writers.

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Why the UAE is the spiritual home of Asia Cup

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Grab your favourite team’s colours. Get the national flag. Maybe a placard too. Don’t forget the face paint. Head to the stadium early enough. There will be massive queues no matter which team plays. The stadiums will be packed to the rafters. And the atmosphere electric. Well, that’s Asia Cup for you in the UAE.

The UAE is home to several expatriate communities. Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Afghans form a huge chunk of the overseas residents in the country. They are crazy about cricket. Their national teams will be in action in Dubai and Sharjah, and the stadiums will reverberate with full-throated cheers and incessant whistling from August 27 to September 11. Ticket sales has been brisk and the India-Pakistan game on August 28 is sold out. Don’t worry, if you have missed out. They will meet again in the Super 4, and a third clash in the final cannot be ruled out.

The UAE is the spiritual home of the Asia Cup. The tournament’s origins can be traced to the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, where businessman and cricket enthusiast Abdul Rehman Bukhatir planted the seeds of cricket fever in the UAE. After the inaugural event in 1984, Asia Cup returned to the UAE 11 years later, and the last was in 2018. This is the fourth championship in the UAE in 15 editions and 38 years of the Asia Cup. So the destinies of the Asia Cup and the UAE seem to be inextricably entwined.

Here’s a guide to the 15th Asia Cup in the UAE.

Who are playing?

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are full members of the International Cricket Conference. The five automatically gain entry to the main event.

The UAE, Kuwait, Singapore and Hong Kong played the qualifiers at the Al Amerat Stadium in Muscat, and Hong Kong qualified for the main event.

What’s the format?

Traditionally, the Asia Cup is a 50-overs event, One-Day Internationals. But it will be a Twenty 20 format this year, since it comes ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in October and November.

The only other time Asia Cup was played over 20 overs was in 2016, when it was organised ahead of the T20 World Cup. But it will revert to the 50-over format in 2023, as the World Cup in the year will be played over 50 overs.

Who are the hosts?

Sri Lanka are the hosts and the event was postponed from 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. The tournament was moved to the UAE since Sri Lanka is embroiled in a political and financial crisis.

What is the tournament format?

The six teams are divided into two groups in the preliminary phase.

Group A: India, Pakistan and Hong Kong

Group B: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan

The top two teams from the two groups will qualify for the Super 4, where each team plays the other three.

The top two from the Super 4 will play the final on September 11.

Where will the games be played?

The matches will played at the Dubai International Stadium and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Matches start at 6pm, UAE.

When will the main event start?

Afghanistan will play Sri Lanka in the opener in Dubai on August 27, and India and Pakistan face off at the same venue the next day.

The final will played in Dubai on September 11.

Asia Cup - Schedule updated
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

What about the qualifiers?

The qualifiers were played at the Al Amerat Stadium in Muscat, Oman. The UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuwait played each other, and Hong Kong entered the main draw in Group A. They will play against India and Pakistan.

How many Asia Cups have been held so far?

Fourteen Asia Cups have been held since the inaugural event in Sharjah in 1984. The tournament has been disrupted only twice: it was cancelled in 1993 due to political tension between India and Pakistan and the 2020 event was postponed to 2022, due to the COVID pandemic.

Who are the defending champions?

India are the holders; the Rohit Sharma-led side defeated Bangladesh in a last-ball thriller in the 2018 final in Dubai.

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Who have won the most?

India have won the Asia Cup seven times, Sri Lanka triumphed on five occasions, and Pakistan claimed it twice.

Bangladesh have never won, despite making the final three times.

Will the heat be a factor?

August in the UAE is hot. But cricketers are professional athletes. So they would have trained hard and tuned their bodies well enough to perform at the best in such conditions.

Moreover, the UAE have successfully hosted several high-profile events, including the T20 World Cup in 2021. The 2018 Asia Cup, two editions of the Indian Premier League, several editions of the Pakistan Super League, and Test matches have been played in the UAE. The heat and humidity weren’t a hindrance.

How many times will India and Pakistan meet in the tournament?

India and Pakistan clash in the preliminary league game on August 28 at the Dubai International Stadium. That’s confirmed.

If the two teams qualify, which they should barring a miracle, they meet a second time in the Super 4.

And if they top the Super 4, India and Pakistan will play the final. That will be a third time. A lip-smacking proposition indeed.

What’s the head-to-head record for India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup?

India and Pakistan have squared off in the Asia Cup 14 times. India won eight times, Pakistan five, and one game ended in a no-result.

What are the chances of India and Pakistan meeting in the final?

Difficult to say. After all, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.

In 14 editions of Asia Cup over 38 years, India and Pakistan have never clashed in the final.

Asia Cup - champions
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

The origins of Asia Cup

The Asia Cup’s origins lie in the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) in Sharjah, with UAE businessman and cricket enthusiast Abdul Rahman Bukhatir playing a pioneering role in bringing cricket to the UAE with the help of India and Pakistan. The initial Gavaskar XI vs Miandad XI events and double-wicket tournaments gave away to the CBFS tournaments. When Sri Lanka joined the Sharjah tournaments, the prospect of an Asia Cup loomed.

The Asian Cricket Council took shape in 1983 with its headquarters in Sharjah. It was only a natural progression that the first Asia Cup was organised next year at the same venue, with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka battling for the prize.

India withdrew from the 1986 edition in Colombo over strained cricket relations with Sri Lanka. That provided Bangladesh with the opportunity to make their debut, and the Bangla Tigers have been a permanent fixture since.

Political tension in the subcontinent always overshadowed the Asia Cup, and Pakistan withdrew from the 1990-91 tournament following strained ties with India. The tension continued to simmer, forcing the cancellation of the 1993 event.

Soon normality was restored, and the UAE and Hong Kong qualified for the 2004 tournament. But politics reared its head in 2018, and the tournament was moved from India to the UAE. Then the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, and the 15th Asia Cup was postponed.

Sri Lanka was to host it this year, but a political and financial crisis gripped the island nation, crippling its ability to organise the tournament. The UAE rode to the rescue of the Asia Cup again.

Look: Asia Cup winners through the years

Comment: Who will be the king of Asia?

Anis Sajan, Special to Gulf News

India are Asia Cup favourites, having won all the bilateral series this year: they beat New Zealand, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Ireland and England. They rallied to draw the se-ries against South Africa and are riding high on confidence.

The batting looks sorted in the hands of captain Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik. The fast bowling looks weak in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, and it will be up to Bhuvneshwar Kumar to guide Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan. Indian spinners Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are experienced, but Ravi Bishnoi might be the standout bowler as he is yet to be decoded.

Pakistan are in fine form, winning all their T20 series. Babar Azam, the number one T20 batsman, leads a strong batting line-up that includes Mohammed Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Khusdil Shah, Haider Ali and Asif Ali. Shaheen Shah Afridi’s injury is a big blow, and the fast bowling will revolve around Naseem Shah, Mohammed Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani and Harris Rauf. Spin will be in the form of Shahram Khan and Mohammed Nawaz. Never discount Pakistan in a T20 game, especially in Dubai and Sharjah.

Sri Lanka too have been playing good T20 cricket under Dasun Shanaka with power-packed batting from Charith Asalanka, Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal. The fast bowling may lack the teeth in the absence of Dushmantha Chameera, but they have a world-class spinner in Wanindu Hasaranga with support from Mahesh Theekshana. They are riding high after a good series against Australia at home.

Bangladesh and Afghanistan are unpredictable and can surprise any opponent on their day. They need to be consistent to be title contenders.

All the teams will be keen to do well since it comes ahead of the World Cup.

— Cricket enthusiast Anis Sajan is the Vice-Chairman of Danube Group

Comment: Watch out for talented Pakistan

Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor

Pakistan without strike bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi may look a bit vulnerable, but that’s not true. Because Afridi has been replaced with young pacer Mohammed Hasnain who has the firepower to destroy any batting order. Hasnain, 22, who bowls at express pace and swings the ball, can be a handful. He has been in good form, having played The Hundred tournament in England before joining the Pakistan squad. Another surprise will be leg-spinner Usman Qadir, the son of the legendary Abdul Qadir.

There’s plenty of depth in the batting too, in the form of big guns like skipper Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Mohammed Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali and Shadaab Khan.

The squad is a blend of young and experienced T20 specialists. The morale is high after sweeping the three-match one-day series against the Netherlands in Amsterdam be-fore flying to the UAE.

Pakistan are in Group A alongside India, and all eyes are on their August 28 match in Dubai, although the tournament begins the previous day. The odds are equal in this game, as Pakistan face India with more confidence, especially after breaking the jinx of losing to India in big tournaments with the 10-wicket win in the 2021 T20 World Cup.

Comment: Hardik Pandya will be the key for India

A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

Defending champions India start favourites as they have plenty of variations in their bowling and depth in batting, which is bolstered by the return of Hardik Pandya. The newfound vigour of Suryakumar Yadav, the second-ranked Twenty20 batter, has add-ed strength to the Indian batting. This will allow Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and others to play with more freedom, which makes the side even more potent. Veteran pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar leads the attack with his wily skills making up for the lack of pace.

Yuzvendra Chahal, a match-winning leg-spinner who has regained confidence, will give India more wicket-taking options. Strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah’s absence is a blow, but the performance of newer bowlers in the West Indies and against South Afri-ca at home offers plenty of hope.

I expect Pandya to perform well in Dubai, where he suffered a career-threatening injury during the Asia Cup in 2018. The talented all-rounder has come back strongly in the recent Indian Premier League, where his captaincy and all-round displays won a lot of praise. A good performance in the Asia Cup will strengthen his case as future India captain.

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The teams

India: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Deepak Hooda, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan.

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir, Mohammad Hasnain.

Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Hazratullah Zazai, Ibrahim Zadran, Darwish Rasooli, Najibullah Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Karim Janat, Azmatullah Omarzai, Sharfuddin Ashraf, Rashid Khan, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Farid Ahmed Malik, Naveen ul Haq, Noor Ahmed

Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (captain), Anamul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain, Mahmudullah, Mahedi Hasan, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mustafizur Rahman, Nasum Ahmed, Sabbir Rahman, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taskin Ahmed, Ebadot Hossain, Parvez Hossain Emon, Mohammad Naim

Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Ashen Bandara, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Chamika Karunaratne, Dilshan Madushanka, Matheesha Pathirana, Pramod Madushan.