For the first time in nearly ten years, India will take on Hong Kong as the defending champions start their Asia Cup campaign on Tuesday at Dubai. It will be an one-sided match, but it's cricket, a game of glorious uncertainties... as the saying goes.
In their only meeting, India beat Hong Kong by 256 runs in a 2008 Asia Cup match at Karachi, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina scoring hundres. Well, that was another time.
Today, the focus for sure is on the next match, against arch rivals Pakistan. But India’s 2018 Asia Cup opener against minnows Hong Kong on Tuesday cannot be ignored because it will serve as a precursor to the high-profile match.
Pakistan started their campaign by beating Hong Kong by eight wickets in the 24th over on Sunday. India would also like to produce a clinical performance to set the tone. And even without regular skipper and run-machine Virat Kohli, India are expected to do just that.
India are likely to test new formations against Hong Kong. Stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma has issues to resolve before their big games, like the top middle order batting roles and the bowling combination.
First thing first, who's filling in for Kohli, at the number three?
With Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan, probably the best opening pair in the world, giving India good starts, there needs someone who can capitalise on it and set the course for late push, if required. As things stand now, it will be a direct fight between Lokesh Rahul and Ambati Rayudu. Both the players are vying to cement their spots in the limited overs team.
Rahul, who played a majestic knock on the final day of India's England tour, seems to have a slight advantage. Despite the failure in the ODI series in England, the 26-year can flourish in the position.
Promoting Rahul at number three also give India with an option of using Rayudu at four. Such a move may well work perfectly for India, considering the uncertainties in the middle order.
Challenge for Dhoni and lower order
Then, it's Mahendra Singh Dhoni, at number five.
For Tuesday's match though, India can still tinker with the batting order, probably promoting Dhoni up the order. The legend sure needs some good time in the middle to stay relevant in India's scheme of things ahead of next year's ICC World Cup in England.
The Asia Cup is important for the defending champions, but a looming World Cup will force India to take shift priorities. Pundits have rightly termed the continental tournament as a warm-up outing. And not to lose the focus, the clash against Hong Kong, is a warm-up to the Pakistan matches.
Coming to the all-rounder's spot or spots, Hardik Pandya is a sure starter. He might even find his fellow all-rounder Kedar Jadhav batting ahead of him at number 6. Both the players can play devastating knocks, with proven abilities to clear boundaries at will.
The bowling attack will be lead by fit again Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with Jasprit Bumrah sharing the new ball. In the spin department, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav will feature prominently even though Axar Patel cannot be rule out altogether.
For Hong Kong, it will be yet another test by fire against the second ranked ODI team. On Sunday, they were bowled out for a paltry 116 runs with not a single player reaching the individual score of 30. Their bowlers did manage to take two Pakistan wickets, but a 117-run target is too small against a team like Pakistan.
But, the 'promoted' side will give everything to impress the cricket world in their last match of the tournament. Yes, they can also hope for a miracle.
Everything you need to know about the match:
Date: September 18, 2018 (Tuesday)
Time: 5:00 PM IST
Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
TV Listing: Star Sports Network
Live Streaming: Hotstar
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur, Dinesh Karthik, Khaleel Ahmed, Axar Patel.
Hong Kong: Anshuman Rath (captain), Aizaz Khan, Babar Hayat, Cameron McAulson, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Arshad Mohammed, Kinchit Shah, Nadeem Ahmed, Raag Kapur, Scott McKehnie, Tanvir Ahmed, Tanvir Afzal, Waqas Khan, Aftab Hussain.
Umpires: Shaun George (South Africa) and Anisur Rahman (Bangladesh)