Group A of the 2018 Asia Cup kicks off with a battle between Pakistan and Hong Kong. One team is a former world champion and two-time Asia cup winner and the other one is filled with semi-professionals trying to find their feet in International cricket. However, they have been highly impressive in the recently concluded Asia Cup qualifiers as they defeated Nepal and the United Arab Emirates. The good news is that ICC has awarded International status to these games which will definitely lift the inexperienced Hong Kong side.
If we talk about Pakistan, they are coming off a much-needed break after the Zimbabwe tour. The Asia Cup starts a hectic period for them with home series against Australia and New Zealand looming in the UAE, followed by a full tour of South Africa in this year’s end. The annual Pakistan Super League (PSL) follows the South Africa tour and then Pakistan head to England for their 2019 World Cup in England.
Fakhar Zaman can do a lot of damage to the opposition ©AFP
The last International assignment for Pakistan was in July this year, a series dominated by their batsman, notably Fakhar Zaman, who smashed 515 runs at an imposing average of 257.5. After earning his recognition during the 2017 Champions Trophy, Zaman has now become the marked man amongst the opposition ranks. While the left-handed opener has deservedly been in the limelight, Pakistan's batting order has a lot more firepower than Fakhar. Imam-ul-Haq enjoyed a run-fest series against Zimbabwe, as did the highly-rated Babar Azam. Throw in the experience of Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali’s hitting prowess, Pakistan's batting looks mighty effective.
Traditionally, Pakistan's strength has always revolved around their bowling and with six pacers in the mix, they will definitely try and adopt a rotation policy to counter the heat and humidity of Dubai. With the spin-duo of Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz in the mix, this turns out into a well-balanced bowling combination. The game against Hong Kong might turn out to see their combinations before the all-important game against India on September 19.
Hong Kong’s bowling has a fantastic mix of spinners and medium pacers who more often than not make up for the lapses of the batsmen. Tanwir Afzal, Aizaz Khan and Ehsan Nawaz are more than competent seamers, while Nadeem Ahmed and Ehsan Khan are excellent spin options. The batting is the weaker suit for Hong Kong, but in Anshuman Rath and Babar Hayat, they have two strong men who can take on the best bowlers on their day, but often lack support at the other end.
Fakhar Zaman is considered one of the most dangerous opening batsmen in world cricket right now. His unorthodox style of play makes him a harder player to bowl to as he hits the ball in unusual areas of the ground. In the recent series against Zimbabwe, Fakhar became the first Pakistan batsman to get to a double century in ODIs. With him being at the top of the order, it is imperative for Hong Kong to get rid of him early otherwise things could get difficult for them.
Just 20 years of age, Anshuman Rath is leading Hong Kong at the Asia Cup. He is regarded as his side’s most dependable batsman. He averages a whopping 52.57 in One Day Internationals, racking up a hundred and six half centuries. His performance in the qualifying round proved to be key to Hong Kong’s progress. Anshuman racked up a total of 209 runs in 6 innings, including 102 against the UAE.
Anshuman Rath (c), Aizaz Khan, Arshad Mohammad, Babar Hayat, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan nawaz, Cameron McAuslan, Scott McKechnie, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Kinchit Shah, Jhatavedh Subramanyan, Tanwir Afzal, Waqas Khan
Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Shoaib Malik, Usman Shinwari