Asia Cup: Stage set for the biggest battles in UAE

Six teams battle it out for the Asia Cup with Sri Lanka taking on Afghanistan in the tournament opener

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The glittering Asia Cup trophy on display. (Supplied photo)
The glittering Asia Cup trophy on display. (Supplied photo)

James Jose

Published: Sat 27 Aug 2022, 12:19 AM

Nine months after the UAE staged the ICC T20 World Cup, the country is braced for another marquee cricket event.

These pristine shores will be the stage for Asia’s best as they tussle to be crowned champions of the Asia Cup.

Six teams — record seven-time champions India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Hong Kong — will battle it out over the next fortnight with one of them taking the trophy in their bag.

After all the training at the ICC Cricket Academy, in the searing summer heat, over the past few days, the action shifts to the ‘Ring of Fire’ — the Dubai International Cricket Stadium — on Saturday night with Sri Lanka and Afghanistan setting the ball rolling for the first match of the 14th edition.

Dubai and Sharjah are the venues for the tournament with the latter, a venue so steeped in history, hosting four matches.

For all intents and purposes, this was supposed to be Sri Lanka’s tournament but the Emerald Island had expressed their inability to host the tournament because of the economic crisis back home. And it was then decided by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) to host the competition in the UAE.

And Sri Lankan skipper Dasun Shanaka said the perfect gift to their nation would be going back home with the coveted trophy.

Sri Lanka have won the tournament five times — 1986, 1997, 2004, 2008 and 2014 — the second most after India.

“Cricket always brings a different kind of vibe to Sri Lankan people, winning is the most thrilling thing,” Shanaka said on Friday, as the team trained at the ICC Cricket Academy.

“So we look forward to delivering for our country,” he added.

“Hosting this tournament in Sri Lanka would have favoured us more because the crowd support is there and playing in home conditions has a bigger advantage,” said Shanaka.

The tiny island nation has been in the grips of a massive crisis with food and fuel shortages adding to the power blackouts.

Sri Lanka are coming off a successful home series against Australia in One-Day Internationals in June. They also went toe to toe with Australia and Pakistan in Tests and drew both the series.

And Shanaka believed there are no clear favourites.

“When it comes to the favourites, India are a leading side at the moment but, in T20, there are no favourites. On a day, if we play good cricket, we can be the favourites as well,” he felt.

Shanaka will be banking on his star all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga to do the star turn for the team.

“Our main spinner Wanindu Hasaranga will definitely play a major role in this tour for us,” said Shanaka.

“We have played some good series in the last two-three months. What I trust the most is the process, so we are on the right track and hopefully we can clean the series here as well,” he added.

Interestingly, this will be only the second T20I between the two sides with Sri Lanka having beaten Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup in India in 2016.

Meanwhile, Shanaka’s opposite number Mohammad Nabi has played more T20Is in the UAE with Saturday set to be his 36th appearance.

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