Red-hot Babar Azam to struggling Kohli: five players to watch at Asia Cup

Hong Kong qualify to face Pakistan and India in Dubai

By: AFP
Published: 11:04 AM, 25 Aug, 2022
Red-hot Babar Azam to struggling Kohli: five players to watch at Asia Cup
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The Asia Cup begins on Saturday with top cricketers including Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and India superstar Virat Kohli in action in the United Arab Emirates.

AFP Sport picks five players to watch in the six-nation tournament, which is an important warm-up for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October.

- Red-hot Azam -

With key pace bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi out injured, Pakistan will depend heavily on Babar Azam's blazing batting.

The 27-year-old leads the T20 and one-day batting rankings and comes into the tournament on the back of two big half-centuries in Pakistan's 3-0 ODI sweep of the Netherlands.

He scored an unbeaten 68 as his side demolished India by 10 wickets in the last meeting between the arch-rivals in the 2021 T20 World Cup -- at the same venue where they meet this Sunday.

- Cornered Kohli -

Star batsman Virat Kohli will play in his 100th T20 international when India face Pakistan in their opener, having been rested from the recent tour of the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

The 33-year-old badly needs a big score. He last hit an international century in November 2019 and is going through the worst phase of his otherwise stellar career.

Kohli, who has struck 27 centuries in 102 Tests since making his debut in 2011, has endured a torrid 12 months that also saw him replaced as national captain.

"He gets a fifty in the very first game, mouths will be shut for the rest of the tournament," said Ravi Shastri, the former India coach.

- All-round Hasaranga -

Wanindu Hasaranga made a strong impact with his leg-spin in this year's Indian Premier League, taking 26 wickets in 16 matches to raise his stock as an impact bowler.

Alongside fellow spinners Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffery Vandersay and Praveen Jayawickrama he will lead Sri Lanka's bowling charge on the UAE's spin-friendly slow pitches.

Hasaranga, 25, who did not play in The Hundred in England because Sri Lanka wanted him fresh for the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup, is also a handy lower-middle-order batsman.

- Captain Shakib -

Shakib Al Hasan has often courted controversy on and off the field but he remains Bangladesh's most consistent performer and returns to lead the team.

The star all-rounder was told to cut ties with a gambling portal to get back the captaincy of Bangladesh, who have won just two of their last 15 Twenty20 matches.

The 35-year-old, a left-handed batsman and spinner, will play his 100th T20 international when Bangladesh open their Asia Cup campaign against Afghanistan on Tuesday.

- Spin king Rashid -

Rashid Khan will be Afghanistan's go-to bowler in the battle for the Asian crown with the leg-spinner going strong with 112 wickets in 66 T20 internationals.

The 23-year-old has been a big hit in global Twenty20 leagues, including the IPL and The Hundred, with his wicket-taking ability and attacking lower-order batting.

Rashid will be prime among the team's key players alongside skipper Mohammad Nabi and will share the spin duties with Mujeeb ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad.

Hong Kong qualify for Asia Cup

Hong Kong reached the Asia Cup on Wednesday where they will face India and Pakistan after defeating the United Arab Emirates by eight wickets in the final qualifying round.

Chasing 148 to win, Hong Kong reached their target with an over to spare with Yasim Murtaza top scoring on 58.

The 31-year-old Murtaza made his runs off 43 balls and hit seven boundaries and one six.

But it was 37-year-old spinner Ehsan Khan who was named man of the match for his 4-24 in his four overs as the brakes were applied to the UAE innings.

He removed both of the Gulf team's top scorers, skipper Chundangapoyil Rizwan (49), who was smartly stumped by Manchester-born wicketkeeper Scott McKechnie, and Zawar Farid (41).

The Asia Cup gets underway on Saturday with India, Pakistan and Hong Kong drawn in Group A and Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Group B.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.