The 14th edition of the Asia Cup is scheduled to be played between September 15 and 28 in the United Arab Emirates. The tournament will be played in 50-overs format and will feature six teams that have been spilt into two groups of three teams each for the group stage. Hong Hong - winners of the recently concluded 2018 Asia Cup Qualifier tournament – have joined India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan for the main event. The top two teams from each group will advance to the Super Four stage and the top two teams from that stage will then compete for the title in the final. All of the Asia Cup matches will be played across two venues - Dubai International Cricket Stadium and Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Read on for team previews, betting odds, betting tips and tournament prediction for Asia Cup 2018....
Rohit Sharma will be leading the team as Virat Kohli has been rested for the Asia Cup. The selectors have ignored Siddarth Kaul, Umesh Yadav and Suresh Raina who were all part of India's ODI squad in England while Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Ambati Rayudu have been recalled to the 16-man squad. Young left-arm pace bowler Khaleel Ahmed has earned his maiden call-up to the national team.
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul and MS Dhoni will be the ones to watch out for with the bat. Skipper Rohit was India's best batsman after Virat Kohli in the England ODI series and he can be very destructive once he gets past the 30-run mark. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are the main threats with the ball. Kuldeep bamboozled the English batsmen and topped the wickets charts with nine wickets in three matches and the wrist-spinner will be the trump card for India in this tournament.
Since losing the Champions Trophy final to Pakistan last year, India have played seven bilateral ODI series and have won six of those. Their most recent assignment in this format came in England against the hosts in July. It was a three-match series which they ended up losing 1-2. India have played nine ODIs so far this year, winning six and losing three.
Pakistan have left out allrounder Imad Wasim and senior batsman Mohammad Hafeez from their 16-man squad for the Asia Cup. Shan Masood, who has yet to feature in the white-ball format, has been picked up as a back-up opening batsman. Haris Sohail, who had pulled himself out of the Zimbabwe tour midway due to personal reasons, has been brought back. The selectors have also included left-arm pacer Usman Khan owing to his impressive performances in Zimbabwe as well as Shaheen Afridi on the basis of his domestic success.
Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik are the key figures for Pakistan when it comes to batting. Fakhar was the highest run-scorer in the recent ODI series against Zimbabwe where he cracked two centuries and as many fifties in five matches. Shoaib has scored the most runs in ODIs for Pakistan from this current squad and he is the most experienced batsman in the side. Pakistan's bowling group looks settled with the likes of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan. Hasan is third on the ICC ODI rankings for bowlers while leg-spinner Shadab took nine wickets in the Zimbabwe series.
Pakistan have won five of their last eight bilateral one-day international series and they also won the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England, beating India by 180 runs in the final at the Oval. Their last ODI assignment came in Zimbabwe where they whitewashed the hosts 5-0. Prior to that, they won each of their five matches against Sri Lanka in the UAE before facing a 0-5 clean sweep at the hands of the Kiwis on their tour of New Zealand.
Hong Kong's performance graph has gone up and down in recent times. They lost their one-day international status soon after their disastrous campaign at the 2018 ICC World Cup Qualifier held earlier this year in Zimbabwe. But they came back determined than ever in the Asia Cup Qualifier in Malaysia and went on to become the winners of the tournament and claim their spot in the main event. After losing the tournament opener to the hosts, Hong Kong ended up winning all of their remaining matches expect the one against Oman which got washed out. They beat Singapore, UAE and Nepal in the league stage and then pipped UAE again in the final. Hong Kong's last win in a major tournament dates back to 2011 when they won the final against Papua New Guinea at the ICC World Cricket League Division Three held in their own country.
Sri Lanka have named a 16-man squad for the Asia Cup. They have recalled veteran pace bowler Lasith Malinga who last played for the country in September 2017. Danushka Gunathilaka has returned to the side after serving a six-match suspension. Dinesh Chandimal has been ruled out of the tournament due to a finger injury he had picked up recently and he has been replaced in the squad by wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella. Akila Dananjaya will be joining the team later on due to personal reasons. Shehan Jayasuriya, Lahiru Kumara and Prabath Jayasuriya who were all part of the team for the South Africa ODI series at home have been sidelined. Angelo Mathews will lead Sri Lanka in this Asia Cup.
Sri Lanka's batting will rely mainly on the likes of Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera. Tharanga has scored the most runs for them in ODI cricket while Mathews topped the runs charts in the recent home ODI series against South Africa. With the ball, the onus will be on Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Suranga Lakmal and Dilruwan Perera to deliver the goods. Dananjaya was the leading wicket-taker in the South Africa series with 14 wickets in 5 matches and the off-spinner can be very dangerous in these spin-friendly conditions.
Sri Lanka have not fared too well in the 50-overs format of late, winning just one of their last eight bilateral/triangular ODI series. They played their last series against South Africa at home almost a month ago which they lost 2-3. Prior to that, they ended up winning the tri-series in Bangladesh that also involved Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka have played ten one-day internationals so far this year out of which they have won five and lost as many.
Bangladesh have omitted Sabbir Rahman, Abu Jayed and an out-of-form Anamul Haque from their 16-man squad for this upcoming Asia Cup. Sabbir was dropped both due to his prolonged run of poor form as well as on disciplinary grounds. Nazmul Islam, Ariful Haque along with top-order batsman Mohammad Mithun have been picked in the side that will be led by Mashrafe Mortaza. Bangladesh, meanwhile, are sweating over the fitness of two of their key players - Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal. While the former had picked up a finger injury during the tour of the West Indies, the latter too hurt his finger recently in a training session. Mominul Haque has been added to the squad as cover for the injured duo.
Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah will be the key figures for Bangladesh when it comes to batting. Tamim is their leading run-getter in ODIs and he was the leading run-getter in the recent ODI series in the West Indies. Shakib Al Hasan is not only one of Bangladesh's best batsmen but also one of their best bowlers. He together with skipper Mashrafe Mortaza will be the ones to watch out for with the ball. Mashrafe has taken the most ODI wickets for his side and he also finished as the highest wicket-taker against the Windies. Mustafizur Rahman and Mehidy Hasan are two other bowlers who can cause problems for the batsmen.
Bangladesh have lost five and drawn one of their last seven bilateral/triangular one-day international series. They emerged victorious 2-1 in their most recent three-match series against the West Indies. Before that series, they lost to South Africa 0-3 before losing to Sri Lanka in the final of the home tri-series that also featured Zimbabwe. Bangladesh have five wins and three defeats from the eight ODIs they have played this year.
Captained by Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan's 17-man squad for the Asia Cup consists of bulk of the players that were part of the team for the recently concluded ODI series against Ireland. The selectors have left out pace bowler Dawlat Zadran while bringing in three uncapped ODI players - Wafadar, Sayed Shirzad and Munir Ahmad who has earned his maiden call-up as cover for wicket-keeper cum opening batsman Mohammad Shahzad. Left-arm wrist-spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf who last played for Afghanistan in this format in March has been recalled to serve as the fourth spin option.
For Afghanistan to do well with the bat, the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi and Rahmat Shah will have to score consistently all through the tournament. Shahzad has 4 centuries and 12 half-centuries in the 50-overs format and the team will look to him each time for setting the tone of their innings. Nabi, the team's leading ODI run-getter and wicket-taker, has been a vital cog for them over the years and he has rescued them from trouble on several occasions in the past. Rashid Khan, the world no. 2 ODI bowler, is the x-factor for Afghanistan when it comes to bowling. Mujeeb Ur Rahman too is making rapid strides in white-ball cricket and he is another potent threat that the opposition teams will have to counter.
Afghanistan have seven wins, two losses and as many draws in their last eleven bilateral ODI series. This excludes the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier held in Zimbabwe in March this year which was also won by them. Their most recent 50-overs assignment came against Ireland in Ireland last month - a three-game series which they ended up winning 2-1. Afghanistan have played 15 one-day internationals this year out of which they have won 10 and lost 5.
Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, K Khaleel Ahmed
Sarfraz Ahmed (C), Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Imam ul Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari, Shaheen Afridi
Anshuman Rath (c), Aizaz Khan, Babar Hayat, Cameron McAulsan, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Arshad Mohammad, Kinchit Shah, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Raag Kapur, Scott McKechnie, Tanveer Ahmed, Tanwir Afzal, Waqas Khan, Aftab Hussain
Angelo Mathews (c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella
Angelo Mathews (c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Dinesh Chandimal
Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, Ariful Haque, Mahmudullah, Mosaddek Hossain, Mehidy Hasan, Nazmul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Hider Rony, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque
Asghar Afghan (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Najibullah Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shenwari, Munir Ahmad, Sayed Shirzad, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Wafadar
Afghanistan have enjoyed a high success rate in ODIs in recent times and they have improved dramatically as a limited-overs side. However, majority of their wins have come against lower ranked teams like Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland and the UAE. They may even stun Bangladesh in their group and somehow manage to progress to the Super Four, but beating the likes of India or Pakistan still seems a distant dream for them. While India and Pakistan are hot favorites to qualify for the knockout round from Group A, Sri Lanka could be joined by either Bangladesh or Afghanistan from Group B.
Cricket fans would be hoping for another India-Pakistan clash in the final of an ICC tournament and the odds of that happening look very good. India will step into the tournament as the best batting unit and Pakistan as the best bowling unit. The former will dearly want to avenge their 2017 Champions Trophy final defeat and even without Virat Kohli, they will fancy their chances here. India are ranked second in the ICC ODI rankings and with their stronger-than-ever bowling attack, we except the defending champions to win their sixth Asia Cup title in the 50-overs format.
Final Verdict: Back India to win the Asia Cup 2018.