By Aman Huda
Despite Group A being the most competitive, most eyes will be on Group B purely because of two teams: India and Pakistan. The two arch-rivals will play for the first time since Pakistan’s 180-run upset win over India in the Champions Trophy final last year. India, although with the best batting line-up in the tournament, will be missing their best batsmen and captain Virat Kohli. Pakistan perhaps has the best chances in familiar conditions and with a rested squad. The two rivals are joined by Hong Kong, who beat UAE earlier this month to qualify for the tournament.
Group B Predictions:
Currently sitting second in the ODI rankings, top in Asia, India is perhaps the strongest team in this competition, but they do have much more pressure this time around. After coming off of a difficult but fruitful 4-1 series loss to England, India has just over a week to prepare for this Asia Cup. Captain and India’s best batsmen Virat Kohli has been rested for this tournament as Rohit Sharma will take over the side.
Some of India’s key batsmen may struggle as the likes of Hardik Panday, KL Rahul, or Shikhar Dhawan may face stamina issues after playing in the test series against England. India can field a fine selection of pace bowlers, including a mix of veteran and younger players, which will help India in the field. India’s key player in this tournament may be leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav. Yadav so far has 48 wickets in just 23 ODIs, and the spinning UAE pitches are more than likely to cause Pakistan and Hong Kong trouble.
India’s batting will most likely power India through the tournament, but burnout may be a key factor in deciding whether they win the tournament.
Prediction: India to top the group stage, finishing second in the Super Four, and come runners-up in the tournament.
Pakistan probably has the best chances to win this tournament. Their players have had the most rest since their recent 5-0 series win against Zimbabwe in July and they will be playing is practically home conditions (as Pakistan has had to play home matches in the UAE since 2008). The squad selection has had some controversy, such as batsmen Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez and spinner Yasir Shah being dropped, but the players stepping in for them can be equally good. Shan Masood, who’s in for Azhar Ali, averages 47.83 with the bat in first-class matches, while Azhar Ali scored just twelve runs in his last four against New Zealand.
The bowling line-up is as strong as it can ever be with Pakistan’s best players Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali taking part. The spinning department can be seen as reliable with 19-year old Shadab Khan taking charge and left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz in the squad.
Pakistan’s biggest competition will most definitely be India, who generally are strong against spin. However, if Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali do the job right, Pakistan can top the group. The key player in this tournament for Pakistan, however, is not a bowler, but a batsman. After scoring 114 in the Champions Trophy final against India and a record 210 against Zimbabwe this summer, Zaman will look to utilize his skills and the UAE conditions against the tired and inexperienced Indian bowlers.
Prediction: Pakistan to finish second in their group, to come first in the Super Four, and to be crowned champions.
3. Hong Kong
Many, many congratulations to Hong Kong for qualifying for the tournament. The path definitely wasn’t easy as they played teams thought to have been better than them, such as the UAE, Nepal, and Oman to get this far and managed to beat Nepal and UAE along the way. Their strength seems to be their bowling line, as during the qualifiers they restricted Singapore to 150 (41.2 overs), favorites UAE to just 93 (24.5 overs), Oman to just 150, Nepal to 95 (37.5 overs), and the UAE in the finals to 176-9.
The man behind it all is Nadeem Ahmed, who took 14 wickets in the qualifiers and will look to replicate his form throughout the Asia Cup. It will be a difficult task though, as the UAE conditions tend to favor batsmen, and Pakistan and India’s batting line-up seems too strong. Although Hong Kong is capable of playing excellent cricket, their inexperience and not-so-much favoring conditions will make them require miracles to get out of this group.
Prediction: Hong Kong to finish third in Group B.