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Six players to watch out for at the 2018 Asia Cup

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Six_Players_Asia_Cup_2018The biggest continental showdown of the game is back, as the United Arab Emirates plays host to the latest edition of the Asia Cup from September 15-28. The tournament features six teams divided into two groups, followed by a Super Four stage and the final. Qualifiers Hong Kong join India and Pakistan in Group A, while Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka make up Group B. Here is a look at six players who will be worth keeping an eye on in the days to come.  

 


Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)

It is a testament to Nabi’s immense value that he has played in all of Afghanistan’s 101 ODIs thus far. The off-spinning all-rounder has been one of the pillars for Afghanistan since the team’s formative years on the international circuit, and more than a decade later, he continues to be a consistent performer with both bat and ball. As Afghanistan look to build on their gains of the past few years with a robust showing at the Asia Cup, Nabi’s performance will be a key factor.


Afghanistan have played the Asia Cup once before, in 2013-14, and incidentally, Nabi was the captain then - he starred with 3/44 in his team’s only win, against hosts Bangladesh. Along with teenagers Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Nabi forms a dangerous spin trio that could be a handful for any batting unit. His stifling off-spin, coupled with his game-changing hitting prowess in the middle order, gives Afghanistan a realistic chance to go all the way in the UAE.


Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh)

Bangladesh may have a lot of work to do before they become a Test force to reckon with, but when it comes to the 50-over game, they have done enough to suggest that they are genuine Asia Cup contenders. A case in point was the recent tour of the West Indies, where the Tigers were trounced in the Test series, but went on to claim the three-match ODI series 2-1. The Man of the Series was southpaw opener Tamim Iqbal, the highest run-scorer in Bangladesh’s ODI history.


Tamim struck 130* and 103 in Bangladesh’s two wins, not to mention 54 in the narrow three-run defeat in between, and this run of form augurs well for Bangladesh as they strive to improve upon their best Asia Cup finish till date - as runners-up in 2011-12. The seasoned Tamim is well-versed with the dynamics of building an ODI innings in Asia, and can also shift gears when required. His solid presence at the top lends Bangladesh a big boost in their quest for silverware.


Babar Hayat (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong bounced back from an opening loss against hosts Malaysia to sneak past the UAE, Oman and Nepal at the Asia Cup Qualifier, thereby confirming their spot in the tournament proper. Having lost their ODI status after a wooden-spoon finish at the World Cup Qualifier earlier this year, Hong Kong will no doubt have something to cheer about as they return to the Asia Cup after a decade. Among the key men for them will be the former captain Babar Hayat.


An attacking top-order batsman who also bowls medium pace, Hayat has played a major role in reviving Hong Kong’s fortunes in the last five years. While he is yet to score an ODI hundred, he has one to his name in T20Is - a sensational 60-ball 122 in a losing cause against Oman in 2015-16, which provided ample evidence of his ability to create havoc when on song. If he gets going in similar fashion, Hong Kong might just give India and Pakistan something to ponder about. 


Jasprit Bumrah (India)

The lanky Bumrah is a key component of an Indian pace attack that has risen to be among the best in business in recent times. The 24-year-old’s unusual sling-arm action has posed a lot of awkward questions to batsmen, more so in the limited-overs game, which is based on quick run-scoring. Moreover, he usually does not allow easy runs - he boasts of an excellent ODI economy rate of 4.64 to go with his average of 22.50. This makes him an asset for India in the death overs. 


In October last year, Bumrah took his 50th wicket in just his 28th ODI, thus becoming the second fastest Indian bowler to reach the milestone. He is currently the world’s top-ranked ODI bowler, and his unorthodoxy gives India an edge as they aim to seek redemption following their ODI and Test series reversals in England. Bumrah is as adept at the start of the innings as he is at the end, which means that batsmen need to be on their toes throughout if they hope to counter his skills. 


Fakhar Zaman (Pakistan)

For quite some time, Pakistan seemed to be in a conundrum when it came to deciding upon a reliable opening batsman who is in tune with modern ODI standards. That was until the exciting Fakhar burst on to the scene during the 2017 Champions Trophy in England. The left-hander made an immediate impact, scoring 57 in the semifinal against England and a memorable 114 in the high-profile final against India, thus paving the way for Pakistan’s astonishing title triumph. 


The 28-year-old Fakhar has since established himself as Pakistan’s first-choice limited-overs opener, and after 18 ODIs, his average reads an eye-popping 76.07, with a strike rate of 101.91 to boot. Less than two months ago, he became the first Pakistani to score an ODI double hundred, with a knock of 210* against Zimbabwe. Two days later, he became the fastest ever to reach 1000 ODI runs, in only 18 innings. Indeed, he will be raring to fire at the Asia Cup as well. 


Akila Dananjaya (Sri Lanka)
 

Dananjaya is yet another unorthodox bowler to hail from Sri Lanka, and if his nascent ODI career is anything to go by, he could go on to become a significant contributor in his team’s ODI resurgence. It has been a rough ride for Sri Lanka in the ODI format over the past two years, a period in which they have failed to win any of their nine bilateral series. They were the winners in the previous 50-over Asia Cup, in 2013-14, and a lot will depend on Dananjaya for an encore.


Primarily an off-spinner, Dananjaya also possesses a potent googly that can trigger concern in the opposition ranks. Though Sri Lanka lost the recent home ODI series against South Africa by a margin of 3-2, Dananjaya ended up as the highest wicket-taker with 14 scalps at 17.85, including a career-best 6/29 in the final game. The pitches in the UAE can be expected to suit spin, and Dananjaya’s wiles and variations could spell trouble for batsmen who fail to read him.   

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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