Babar focused on Nepal rather than India ahead of Asia Cup - GulfToday

Babar focused on Nepal rather than India ahead of Asia Cup


Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam (centre) inspects the pitch during a training session at the Multan Cricket Stadium. AFP

Pakistan captain Babar Azam stressed his team was focused on Wednesday’s Asia Cup opening game against Nepal rather than against arch-rivals India, saying no team can be taken lightly.

The six-nation Asia Cup — which Pakistan and Sri Lanka are co-hosting after India refused to tour Pakistan over political tension — opens in Multan with three other matches in Lahore.

India will play all their matches in Sri Lanka, where nine matches — including the September 17 final — will be staged.

Though some of the PCB officials expressed their dissatisfaction, it was to no avail as this seemed the only way to salvage the tournament.

Azam regretted the snub over Pakistan’s hosting.

“In my opinion, it would have been great if the whole Asia Cup was held in Pakistan,” he said on Tuesday. “But unfortunately, it has not happened, so we have to be ready for whatever schedule is decided.”

Pakistan will fly to Sri Lanka to play India in Pallekele on September 2 before playing a Super Four match in Lahore and then returning to Sri Lanka for the remaining matches.

Barring any upsets, Pakistan will also play India in Colombo on September 10.

“As professionals, we have to be ready. There is some travelling and back-to-back matches, but we are excited,” said Azam, who also played down the hype over the India clashes.

“Pakistan and India matches are always of high intensity and we will try to play the best cricket on that day, but at the moment we are focused on Nepal and will not take them lightly.

“It’s the first match and is important,” he added.

Pakistan have gone heavy on batting depth for their tournament opener. With three frontline quicks and three spin-bowling all-rounders, the team isn’t short of options in the bowling department either.

There are a few changes from the XI that played Afghanistan in the final ODI in Colombo.

Iftikhar Ahmed came into the middle order, replacing Saud Shakeel. There was also no room for pacer Mohammad Wasim with Pakistan opting to go with Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.

Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz will be aided by Salman Agha in the spin department.

The batting line-up has a familiar look with Iftikhar coming back into the middle-order after missing the final ODI against Afghanistan.

India, Pakistan and Nepal are in Group A while defending champions Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan form Group B.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super Four stages.

Pakistan are on a high, having whitewashed Afghanistan 3-0 in Sri Lanka last week to rise to the top of the one-day international rankings.

Nepal qualified for the Asia Cup after winning the Asian Cricket Council Premier Cup in April at home, beating Oman and the UAE.

“We are playing in the Asia Cup for the first time and its a big occasion,” said captain Rohit Paudel. “We want to give a competitive game to Pakistan and India as well.

“We deserved to be here. We have been playing for more than two decades and this is the highest opportunity for Nepal and a great learning experience against a world-class team.”

Nepal will hope their high-quality spinner Sandeep Lamichhane cause some problems for Pakistan batting which includes world’s top-ranked batter Azam, number three Imam-ul-Haq and number five Fakhar Zaman.

Their inexperienced batting will be tested by world’s top pace trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah.

Injury-hit Sri Lanka names squad: Injuries forced Sri Lanka on Tuesday to drop two key players — Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera — from their 15-member squad for the 50-over Asia Cup tournament.

Sri Lanka’s cricket board said Hasaranga, a spin bowling all-rounder, and pace bowler Chameera were in the original squad, but had to be dropped due to their injuries.

Two other lesser known players — Dilshan Madushanka and Lahiru Kumara — were also left out because of injuries, the board said.

Elsewhere, Matheesha Pathirana and Kasun Rajitha are the other fast bowlers in the squad. Dunith Wellalage is a spinning all-rounder, who will join Hemantha and Maheesh Theekshana in the spin bowling group. Wicketkeeper-batter Sadeera Samarawickrama is also included in the squad.


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