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Battle of regional supremacy starts today

While Bangladesh will take on an unfancied United Arab Emirates in Lahore, Pakistan will lock horns with Hong Kong in Karachi on the opening day.

cricket Updated: Jun 24, 2008 13:05 IST

The battle for the Asia Cup resumes on Tuesday after a four-year hiatus with the best cricketers in the continent hoping to make their presence felt in a cricket tournament which has more to do with national pride than money.

Bangladesh will take on unfancied United Arab Emirates in Lahore and hosts Pakistan will lock horns with Hong Kong in Karachi in the opening day.

The six-nation tournament was last staged in Sri Lanka in 2004 and political problems between India and Pakistan have restricted the number of Asia Cup tournaments to just eight since its inception in 1983-84.

On the sidelines of the tournament, Pakistan and India will also resume their traditional rivalry from the recent tri-series in Bangladesh where Pakistan clinched the title.

The real battle would be between Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka while Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates would have the opportunity to learn a few tricks of the trade from the superior opponents.

Bangladesh have always cut a sorry figure when they have rubbed shoulders with big teams barring a few exceptions, so they would be keen to shrug off that image and put up a spirited fight to create an upset.

Having constantly faced questions from foreign teams over the wisdom of having international cricket events in the strife torn country, the Pakistan Cricket Board will also be keeping its fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly over the next two weeks.

The PCB would also use the hosting of Asia Cup as a dress rehearsal for the Champions trophy, slated for September, to allay the security reservations of some teams.

Led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India come to Pakistan after a gap of two and half years when they last toured in early 2006 for a Test series.

Stung by the tri-series defeat in Bangladesh, India would be keen not only to take revenge but also assert themselves as the region's cricket powerhouse.

After launching their campaign with a match against Hong Kong on Wednesday, the Indians take on arch-rivals Pakistan the following dau and no wonder the organisers have upped the prices of the tickets for this match.

The tri-series win in Bangladesh makes Pakistan a confident side and with the home advantage, it would be tough for India and Sri Lanka to rein them easily.

Sri Lanka, led by Mahela Jaywardene, have not played one-day cricket since losing series 0-2 against the West Indies in April. They would look to get back to winning ways.

No wonder all teams have included specialist spinners in their line-ups with Pakistan opting for two tweakers in Saeed Ajmal and Mansoor Amjad and three spinning all-rounders in Shahid Afridi, Fawad Alam and Shoaib Malik.

India will definitely miss the services of their two most experienced bowlers in off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and pacer Sreesanth.

Zakir Khan, the event director, said the presence of the four Test playing nations of Asia has raised the value of the tournament.

"We know how important this tournament is for us and we have the best arrangements for it. The fact that we are hosting the Asia Cup for the first time is also significant.

"We are looking at the Asia Cup as a cricket festival and to show the world any event can be staged in Pakistan without any problems," he said.

Former Pakistan Test captain Zaheer Abbas said the Asia Cup would be a good indication of where the one-day games are headed after the resounding success of Twenty20.

"It is difficult to pick any winners at this stage but one thing is certain we are going to see some close games because the conditions are ideal for big totals," he said.

Another former captain, Intikhab Alam felt Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka all have equal chances of winning the final.

"The composition of all three sides is very balanced for one-day cricket and all sides have some very good young players. It is all about who leads his team well on the big day," Alam said.