Asia’s cricket giants India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will get a final chance to size each other up before October’s 50-over World Cup when the Asia Cup begins on Wednesday.
Fiery rivals India and Pakistan could clash as many as three times if they go all the way in the six-nation continental championship.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are co-hosts, a hybrid model agreed after World Cup hosts India refused to tour Pakistan, with the final on September 17 in Colombo.
Babar Azam’s Pakistan, who became the world’s top-ranked ODI team after last week’s 3-0 series sweep against Afghanistan, open their campaign at home on Wednesday against Asia Cup debutants Nepal in Multan.
Azam, who scored 113 runs in the Afghanistan series, leads a side containing a triple-pronged fast bowling attack in Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.
World Cup hosts India, led by Rohit Sharma, will open their campaign against Pakistan in a hotly anticipated clash on Saturday in Pallekele.
India and Pakistan, who only play against each other in international tournaments due to the countries’ long-standing political tensions, are expected to meet again in the Super Four stage and could face off for a third time in the final.
“It’s not just Pakistan, there are other teams,” Rohit said of the hype surrounding the Pakistan clashes, with the rivals also scheduled to meet in the 50-over World Cup in Ahmedabad on October 14.
“Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup last year. So there are other teams who are playing good cricket and will challenge us.”
Rohit said the Asia Cup was the perfect place to “test ourselves, try and put ourselves under pressure and respond to that pressure.”
India’s batting has been boosted by the return of KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer alongside Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill and Rohit.
The 50-over World Cup begins on October 5 in India.
Sri Lanka, who won the Asia Cup last year in Dubai when it was played as a Twenty20 tournament, have been hit by injuries ahead of their opener against Bangladesh in Kandy on Thursday .
Fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera is all but out of the tournament with a shoulder injury and leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga is doubtful for at least the group matches having missed the Lanka Premier League final eight days ago with a thigh strain.
Bangladesh have had a difficult build-up with Tamim Iqbal stepping down as captain and missing the tournament with a back injury as he tries to get fit for the World Cup.
Veteran all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan has been reappointed captain through to the end of the World Cup. He previously led Bangladesh for 50 one-day internationals between 2009 and 2017.
Afghanistan, despite their recent loss to Pakistan, can pose problems with their potent spin attack of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi.
They also have in-form batsman Rahmanullah Gurbaz who smashed 151 in a losing cause in the second game against Pakistan.
Minnows Nepal could be in for a baptism of fire having been clubbed with India and Pakistan in Group A. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan make up Group B.
The top two teams from each group advance to the Super Four with the leading two in the standings contesting the final. (AFP)