Pakistan cricketer Babar Azam (L) takes part in a training session at the Dubai Sports City complex. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Babar Azam, Pakistan’s rising star, has a special impetus to prove himself in the Asia Cup as his team open their campaign against qualifiers Hong Kong on Sunday.

Lying second to Virat Kohli in the ICC rankings of top ODI batsmen, Azam looks to make the most of the Indian captain’s absence in the tournament to gain the pole position.

Kohli, rested for the tournament after a hectic England tour, occupies the first position with 911 points while Babar is on 825 points.

Speaking after a hard workout at the ICC Academy, Azam said: “No team is easy so we will not take the match against Hong Kong as an easy one. Remember the best teams play in Asia Cup. Though India match will be interesting, I feel all the five teams are good.”

Pakistan are in good nick after the series against Zimbabwe. “Our top order did well in Zimbabwe but middle order too got their chances. Asif Ali did well in the middle order and so did Shoaib Malek. So individually, all of us are in good form.”

Babar admitted that an in-form Kohli not playing in the Asia Cup is an advantage but his team is not looking far ahead. “Our focus will be on match to match. After that, we can only plan for the later matches,” said Azam, who hit an unbeaten 106 in his last ODI against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo. However, Babar warned that India without Kohli is also strong. “They have Rohit Sharma and Mahendra Singh Dhoni — who are all experienced players.”

Babar also revealed that Pakistan dressing room is a happy place with Mickey Arthur as coach. “With Arthur as coach, the dressing room atmosphere has changed. All youngsters in the team are given confidence and self-belief. The presence of senior players like Shoaib Malek and Sarfraz Ahmad has helped a lot as all youngsters talk to them and they are so helpful.”

When asked about his approach towards batting, Azam said: “My batting is based on the confidence to play full 50 overs. I will always try to build the innings.”

To a query on the format of the Asia Cup in which India and Pakistan may end up playing three matches, Azam said: “It is nice if India and Pakistan may play thrice especially in the light of no series between each other. This is a nice opportunity to play each other and that too through a good tournament. It is also important because a lot of people will come out to watch the match and many will follow the match. So it is a good chance for the fans to enjoy.”

Hong Kong too had a good training session at the ICC Academy. Their skipper Anshuman Rath considers their participation in the Asia Cup as an honour. “It is an honour and a privilege to play against some of the legends of the game. We are just going to take it game by game. “We are hungry, and we have worked very hard to get here,” he said.