Asia Cup 2018: India favourites to win, feels Venkatesh Prasad
Rohit Sharma will lead India in a series for the third time. (Getty Images)

Former fast bowler Venkatesh Prasad has tipped India as the favourites to win the 2018 Asia Cup. The defending champions, led by Rohit Sharma, are the No.2-ranked ODI side in the world and won the Asia Cup title for the sixth time, beating Bangladesh in the final two years ago. Prasad, writing in his column for Times of India, however added that India would not find it easy from Pakistan since they have the home advantage.

“The Asia Cup begins on Saturday and the Rohit Sharma-led Indian team, the defending champions, will start favourites having won six of the 13 editions,” Prasad wrote. “Pakistan, two-time champions, who beat India to the ICC Champions Trophy crown last year, will look to cash in on the ‘home advantage’. In the last few years, they’ve played most of their international cricket in the UAE.”

On Saturday, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will face off in the opener. The condensed nature of the Asia Cup is such that each team gets two league stages matches from which to progress to the Super Four; which means that defeat in the first game can virtually eliminate a team. Sri Lanka have traditionally bossed Bangladesh in ODIs, but with the stakes high it is really anyone’s game to lose.

“The two other Asian teams — Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — have had to grapple with injuries in the lead-up to the event. Sri Lanka have just lost a One-day series to South Africa at home, while Bangladesh enter the fray on the back of a series win against West Indies. Player and fitness management will be key factors for both teams,” Prasad, who played 33 Tests and 161 ODIs for India, said.

He also expected Hong Kong to spring in a few surprises. Despite being near to impossible for them to qualify from the group consisting India and Pakistan, Prasad believes their bowling department has calibre to cause a surprise. This will be Hong Kong’s third Asia Cup participation.

“Thrown in amid the Asian power houses, one team which will look to make a mark is Hong Kong, who are pooled alongside India and Pakistan in Group A. Having flexed their muscles in the qualifying tournament, Hong Kong, who will make their third appearance in the event, having featured in the 2004 and 2008 editions, will be eager to cause a few upsets,” said Prasad.

“While they have a good mix of spinners and pacers, batting will be an area where they will have to up their game, especially against quality bowling units from India and Pakistan.”

Another team from whom expectations will be high is Afghanistan. Led by Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan are coming off a series win over Ireland where their performance has spoken volumes of their continuous rise in world cricket. Despite a misfiring batting line-up, Afghanistan have the bowlers to win them matches. They have affected surprising results in the past and are very much capable of pulling it off again.

“Afghanistan, who are clubbed with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Group B, will be making their second appearance in the tournament after 2014. Their biggest takeaway from their previous appearance is a win against Bangladesh. Since then, as a cricketing nation, they have made rapid strides which includes attaining their Test status. While batting remains their weak link, the spinners will surely be a handful,” Prasad said.