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September 16, 2018

Pakistan look to begin Asia Cup campaign in style


September 16, 2018

DUBAI: Title favourites Pakistan are expected to enjoy a walk in the park here on Sunday (today) at the sun-baked Dubai International Cricket Stadium where they meet minnows Hong Kong in what promises to be the first of this year’s Asia Cup mismatches.

With the mercury threatening to hover around 43 degrees Celsius, the hot weather is expected to be the only real issue that Pakistan can expect to face in their tournament opener.

Hong Kong, who surprisingly qualified for the six-nation contest by winning the qualifying event in Malaysia, are a little more than a bunch of semi-professionals.

However, Hong Kong captain Anshuman Rath has warned opponents including Pakistan against taking them lightly stressing that his team is hungry and wants to keep trying and improving against some of the best sides in world cricket.

Pakistan are among those ‘best’ sides that Hong Kong will be targeting in the Asia Cup which got underway on Saturday with a game featuring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The Pakistanis are coming off an extended break and the Asia Cup starts a hectic period for them with home series against Australia and New Zealand looming, followed by a full tour of South Africa, the annual Pakistan Super League (PSL) and the season-ending 2019 World Cup in England. As such, Mickey Arthur’s men would be keen to get off to a solid start and as the Hong Kong clash could just be ideal to dust the cobwebs off early.

Pakistan’s last international assignment was in Zimbabwe in July this year, a series dominated by their batsman, notably, Fakhar Zaman, who smashed 515 runs at an imposing average of 257.5. Having earned his stripes during the 2017 Champions Trophy, Zaman has now become the marked man amongst the opposition ranks. While the left-handed opener has deservedly taken all the plaudits, Pakistan’s batting order has a lot more than just him. Imam-ul-Haq enjoyed a run-laden series against Zimbabwe, as did the highly-rated Babar Azam. Throw in the all-round potential of Shoaib Malik and Faheem Ashraf, Pakistan’s batting looks mighty effective.

Pakistan’s strength has always revolved around their bowling and with as many as six pacers in the fray, they might well adopt a revolving door policy to counter the heat and humidity of Dubai. Add Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and the recent 50-over form to the mix, you’d know why they are being tipped as the early favourites.

The game against Hong Kong, who despite their credentials, are only expected to make the numbers might just be the right way to prepare for arch-rivals India, who they are expected to face at least twice, if not thrice, during the course of the tournament.

Having come off a long break, Pakistan would most likely field the same XI that beat Zimbabwe so convincingly. On pitches that are expected to be slow and low, Shadab Khan could likely be the lone spinner with Faheem Ashraf edging out Mohammad Nawaz for the all-rounder spot.

Hong Kong are unlikely to tinker with the playing XI that served them so well in the qualifiers that were played last month in Kuala Lumpur.

Teams (likely):

Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari.

Hong Kong: Nizakat Khan, Anshuman Rath (captain), Babar Hayat, Kinchit Shah, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Aizaz Khan, Scott McKechnie, Tanwir Afzal, Ehsan Nawaz, Nadeem Ahmed. —with inputs from agencies

Today’s Fixture Pakistan vs Hong Kong 4:30 pm PST

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