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Captains chart course to glory

Skippers desperate to land the Asia Cup treasure

Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
Captains of the six teams participating in the Asia Cup with the trophy in Dubai.
Gulf News

Dubai: The captains of the top four teams, who will be vying for glory in the Unimoni Asia Cup for two weeks starting on Saturday, are in no mood to see this event merely as the start of a build-up exercise for the ICC World Cup in England next year.

“The World Cup is still too far away for us and we do not know what look the teams will wear then. Our focus right now is on winning this tournament and it won’t be easy,” said Indian skipper Rohit Sharma, echoing the sentiments of his counterparts from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at a well-attended press conference to unveil the glittering trophy at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday afternoon.

Afghanistan, the spunky bunch who have already qualified for the World Cup, and qualifiers Hong Kong are the two other teams in the six-team tournament — which is making its return in a different avatar this time. The six teams have been divided into two groups of three teams each with India, Pakistan and Hong Kong and in Group A and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Group B. The teams will play each other in a league format with the top two from each group qualifying for the Super Four stage next — from where the top two finishers will clash in the final on September 28 in Dubai.

Sarfraz Ahmad, the Pakistan captain under whom the ‘green shirts’ have emerged as a formidable force in white ball cricket ever since they shocked India to win the ICC Champions Trophy about a year back, sees the tournament as a “great opportunity” for the team to prove themselves again.

Replying to a query about the stability that this gifted but often unpredictable team has managed to bring about in their performance, the wicketkeeper-batsman said: “It was with a young team that we went on to win the Champions Trophy but from there onwards, our plan was to make minimum changes to the team to maintain the consistency.”

While Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will set the ball rolling on Saturday in what will be a crucial tie for them to advance from the group stage, the marquee clash in the group stage is a no-brainer — with a sell-out house expected to attend the India-Pakistan match at this venue on September 19 (Wednesday). It’s after a gap of 12 years that the subcontinental neighbours will be taking on each other in the UAE, the last occasion being a two-match series in Abu Dhabi in 2006.

“It’s always exciting to play Pakistan, but it’s not about one team as well. There are other very capable teams and everyone is eyeing the title,” remarked Indian skipper Sharma, who boasts of an awesome record of three double centuries in this format of the game.

Despite having an enviable record of winning the Asia Cup five times, a feat that they share with India, Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Matthews refused to take things granted about making it to the final. “We need to take one game at time here as in this format, you can bow out of the tournament after just one bad game,” he said.

“It’s a very important tournament for us. The World Cup is still quite far off but we have to continue with the process,” said Mashrafe Mortaza, the veteran Bangladesh all-rounder and captain.

Asghar Afghan, the Afghanistan skipper, was modest in his ambitions in the tournament. “It’s a great opportunity to play against teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” Afghan said referring to his group. He also had a word of praise for qualifiers Hong Kong for having come so far through the ranks.

“We are very excited and privileged to playing alongside such big teams. We will keep trying hard to make an impression in this tournament,” said Hong Kong captain Anshuman Rath.