With the 2019 World Cup less than a year away, the six-team 50-over tournament will serve as a perfect platform for the sides to address certain areas and get their team combinations right ahead of the mega-event in England.
While cricket is a team sport based on collective effort, instances of one individual influencing the outcome of a match are numerous. So here we look at one player from each team who will be crucial to their Asia Cup campaign.
Kuldeep Yadav | India
Kuldeep is yet to make a name for himself in Test cricket but when it comes to the limited-overs format the left-arm wrist spinner has already caused significant damage ever since his One-Day International debut in June 2017. Kuldeep already has 48 wickets in just 23 ODIs at an impressive average and economy rate of 19.35 and 4.82 respectively. The tracks in United Arab Emirates (UAE) will provide great deal of assistance to the spinners and it won't come as a big surprise if Kuldeep takes the tournament by storm.
There were quite a few English players who failed to pick him in the limited-overs series, and considering most of the players involved in Asia Cup have not played against him, Kuldeep will be even more threatening. There will be leg-breaks, array of googlies, flippers and top-spinners on display.
Fakhar Zaman | Pakistan
The hard-hitting left-hand opener has been in red-hot form ever since making his ODI debut in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Recently, he tore apart the Zimbabwe bowling attack in the five-match ODI series, and dominated the Twenty20 tri-series, which also involved Australia. Apart from becoming the fastest to 1000 ODI runs (in 18 games), Zaman is the only Pakistan cricketer to smash a double century in the 50-over format.
The best way to use Zaman is to cut him loose at top of the order and Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has done that. Zaman has got the game to take out any opposition, and if he fires in the Asia Cup, it will be difficult to stop Pakistan from lifting that trophy in their adopted home.
Lasith Malinga | Sri Lanka
Lasith 'Slinga' Malinga is back and will be hankering to make an impact to prolong his career at least till the 2019 World Cup. The 35-year-old, who last played an ODI in September 2017, has been plagued by injuries and fitness issues over the last couple of years. The pace has dropped, and thus his slower balls aren't as effective as they used to be. Hence, the yorker king has now lost his crown!
However, he still remains one of the best limited-overs pacers in Sri Lanka. Malinga now looks like a shadow of his previous self but can still destroy any batting line-up on his day. Sri Lanka will want Malinga to remain fit, and give the cricketing world a glimpse of his old self.
Shakib Al Hasan | Bangladesh
The 31-year-old ace all-rounder is not fully fit and will play through pain to help his team do well in the event. Shakib sustained a finger injury in January and had to miss a couple of series. He then played in the Nidahas Trophy in March and led his side in the multi-format series against the Windies in June-August. There was a lot of confusion around his fitness ahead of the Asia Cup as Shakib wanted to get a surgery done before the tournament. It didn't happen, and thus Shakib will now have to wait for at least a couple of weeks.
However, Bangladesh can still expect 100 percent commitment from their star player. Shakib, who looked in decent touch in West Indies, will have to play a key role with both bat and ball for his team. With Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in their group, Bangladesh can ill-afford to put a foot wrong. If Shakib, alongside the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mashrafe Mortaza and Mahmudullah arrive at the party, it won't be easy to stop Bangladesh.
Rashid Khan | Afghanistan
It's next to impossible to talk about Afghanistan cricket without Rashid Khan's name coming up. The 19-year-old legspinner has picked up 108 wickets in just 47 ODIs at an astonishing average of 14.22. With conditions favourable to spinners, Rashid has the potential to run through any batting order. In the three-match ODI series against Ireland in August, Rashid claimed eight wickets.
Rashid has already proven himself on the big stage and the opposing teams will be wary of the chaos he can cause. Unlike Chahal, Kuldeep and Shadab Khan, Rashid has the ability to turn the ball at decent pace which makes it more difficult for the batsman to read him. In Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Sharafuddin Ashraf, Rashid has able allies, and Afghanistan have a good chance of going deep into the competition.
Anshuman Rath | Hong Kong
Rath has played a huge role in the evolution of Hong Kong cricket. In the qualifiers, the 20-year-old left-handed batsman and skipper of Hong Kong scored 204 runs in five matches, including a century, and helped his team cement a spot in the main tournament. In total, Rath has 726 runs in 16 ODIs at 52.57.
Not much will be expected of Rath and his team which will give him the freedom to express himself against the teams like India and Pakistan. It's a nothing-to-lose situation for both Rath and Hong Kong, so why not make the most of it?
AfghanistanAnshuman RathAsia Cup 2018bangladeshFakhar Zamanhong kongIndiaKuldeep YadavLasith MalingaMujeeb Ur RahmanpakistanRashid Khanshakib al hasansri lanka
First Published: September 15, 2018, 11:32 AM IST