Pakistan open Asia Cup with hopes for future

Published: Monday, June 23, 2008, 12:31 [IST]
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Pakistan and Bangladesh both face minnows as the ninth Asia Cup begins on Tuesday, with the hosts hoping the event passes smoothly to pave the way for more international cricket in future.

Pakistan face Hong Kong in Karachi while Bangladesh play the United Arab Emirates in the first round. Defending champions Sri Lanka and India are the other teams in the six-nation event which runs until July 6.

The Asia Cup serves as a dress rehearsal for Pakistan's hosting of the eight-nation ICC (International Cricket Council) Champions Trophy in September.

Several foreign teams, led by Australia who postponed a Test and one-day tour to Pakistan in March-April this year, are considering a boycott of the Champions Trophy over safety concerns.

Pakistan has been hit by political upheaval and a wave of suicide bombings in the past year, which have claimed more than 1,000 lives, although the violence has tailed off in recent months.

However, if Pakistan stages the Asia Cup without any trouble then foreign teams will be left with little choice other than to take part in the ICC event.

The ICC last week gave Pakistan the all-clear for the September tournament but said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Pakistan, which is staging the Asia Cup for the first time since its inception in 1984, is confident of a positive start to the competition.

"We are confident that if we play tough cricket we can win the competition," said captain Shoaib Malik ahead of his team's Group B match, adding that the match against arch rivals India on Thursday will be the key to reaching the final.

"We will take it match by match. First up is Hong Kong and we don't want any let ups in that match which we should win without any discomfort," said Malik.

Hong Kong's English coach Aftab Habib said his side would remember the Irish feat of upsetting Pakistan in the World Cup held in the Caribbean last year.

"Cricket is a funny game and we should remember there were lots of upsets in the 2007 World Cup so we must give it our best to upset Pakistan," said Habib, who played two Tests for England in 1999.

In Lahore, Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful is eyeing a spot in the second round with a win over the UAE.

"Our first target is to get a place in the second round so we should play quality cricket to beat the UAE and then focus on the bigger game against Sri Lanka," said Ashraful.

For UAE they have no choice but to try to upset Bangladesh.

"We have prepared well for this competition and know that the only chance to reach the second round is to beat Bangladesh," said UAE captain Saqib Ali.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the super league where each side will play each other to decide the July 6 finalists.

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