Asia Cup: All eyes on India–Pakistan clash on 2 September
Hybrid model a dampener to start off the dress rehearsal for the upcoming ICC World Cup
The timing of the Asia Cup 2023, a dress rehearsal for the ICC World Cup in India in October–November in more ways than one, gives it a huge importance.
However, the uncertainty over the tournament during its build-up — not to speak of the hybrid model, with the matches being split between Pakistan and Sri Lanka — hardly does justice to the significance of the event, which begins in Multan, Pakistan, on Wednesday, 30 August.
A look at the five of the six teams in fray — Nepal being an outlying qualifier — says it’s a marquee line-up with five of the potentially most powerful teams for the upcoming World Cup in Subcontinental conditions. However, the embargo on India playing on Pakistani soil and vice versa (the ICC tournaments being the lone exception) has led to a somewhat skewed distribution of matches.
Babar Azam’s Pakistan, currently the No.1-ranked one-day team, are the official hosts of the tournament. However, the country will host only 4 of the 13 matches at stake. They will set the ball rolling against the weakest side on paper, Nepal, in Multan on Wednesday, before flying out to Sri Lanka to play the humdinger against India on Saturday — in the serene surroundings of Kandy.
The six teams are divided into two groups: Group A has India, Pakistan and Nepal and Group B has reigning champions Sri Lanka with Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The top two finishers of both groups then make it to the Super Four stage, of which the top two finishers will qualify for the final in Colombo on September 17.
A look at the Super Four fixtures may make one wonder whether, if India tops Group A, the team will travel to Lahore to play the first Super Four game against the second-placed finisher of Group B.
There is no such possibility however, according to the playing conditions, as irrespective of where India finish in the first round, Pakistan will qualify as A1 and India as A2, while Sri Lanka will be B1 and Bangladesh B2 in the other group.
This formula holds, unless of course any of these teams fails to make it to the top two places in their respective groups — which will open the doors to underdogs Afghanistan and Nepal.
While there are no prizes for guessing that the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) would put their money on a India–Pakistan final, things did not follow the script on the last two occasions in the UAE.
In the 2018 edition in Dubai, a 50-over affair, Rohit Sharma was the stand-in captain when India pipped Bangladesh by one run in the final. Last year, Dasun Shanaka’s Lankans were the surprise winners against Pakistan in the T20 format.
A second clash between India and Pakistan in the Super Four on September 10 (A1 vs A2) is, however, a given — unless Nepal comes up with a stunner.
However, the 50-overs format — along with the conditions, which may be loaded in favour of the batsmen, with spinners coming into play in the later stages of the game — may see the heavyweight batting sides calling the shots. India, the most successful team in the tournament’s history with seven titles, and Pakistan look the favourites on paper — though Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are quite capable of spoiling their party.
It’s time then to brace for two weeks of intriguing contests, with the earnest hope that the rains do not play spoilsport in the islands around this time of the year.
Most successful teams in the Asia Cup
India: seven Cups (1984, 1988, 1990, 1995, 2010, 2016 & 2018)
Sri Lanka: five Cups (1986, 1997, 2004, 2008, 2014 & 2022)
Pakistan: two Cups (2000 and 2012)
Bangladesh: Runners-up in 2012, 2016 & 2018
Fixtures (Group stages)
Aug 30: Pakistan vs Nepal (Group A) in Multan
Aug 31: Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka (Group B) in Kandy
Sept 2: Pakistan vs India in Kandy
Sept 3: Bangladesh vs Afghanistan (Group B) in Lahore
Sept 4: India vs Nepal (Group A) in Kandy
Sept 5: Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka (Group B) in Lahore
Sept 6: A1 vs B2 (Lahore)
Sept 9: B1 vs B2 (Colombo)
Sept 10: A1 vs A2 (Colombo)
Sept 12: A2 vs B1 (Colombo)
Sept 14: A1 vs B1 (Colombo)
Sept 15: A2 vs B2 (Colombo)
Sept 17: Final (Colombo)