Pakistan's players during their T20 Asia Cup match against India in Dubai. File
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
A formidable Pakistan will look to seal their berth in the Super 4 with a victory over the minnows Hong Kong in their Asia Cup match in Sharjah on Friday.
Though it is a must-win game for both, Pakistan are firm favourites, barring any catastrophe or should the underdogs Hong Kong spring one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game and spoil the equation.
Top two teams from each group will advance to the Super 4 and India have already booked their berth with two straight wins.
If Pakistan also reach the next round as expected, then India and Pakistan will meet once more in the Super 4 and will remain on the collision course for the final.
Hong Kong have qualified for the Asia Cup for the second consecutive time. They put up a good fight against India, scoring a 150 plus against the Indian bowling attack.
Babar Hayat and Kinhcit Shah were the outstanding performers for the Hong Kong with Zeeshan Ali also contributing down the order which shows there is some depth in their batting.
Their bowling was also under control as they did not leak too many runs until Suryakumar Yadav did the damage in the end.
Meanwhile, Pakistan will be cautious but not wary of Hong Kong. Their focus must be on the bigger picture as World Cup is just one-and-half month away.
Pakistan came into the series on the back of two consecutive series wins before losing their last match against India. They will look to regain their momentum with Hong Kong romp and set the tone for the rest of the tournament. Their campaign has been jolted by the injury blow their pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Though coach Saqlain Musthaq and captain Babar Azam played down the injury blow to Shaheen, asserting that they have bowlers like Haris Rauf and Shehnawaz Dahani, who can step up and fill the void, none of them could come up with a performance that would make up the for the absence of Shaheen.
In their last match against India on the same turf in the World Cup , it was Shaheen, who ripped through the Indiaâ€™s top order and pushed them on the back foot whence they could never recover and posted an under par total which was achieved by Pakistani openers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan.
Pakistani captain Babar is in great form and scored two big fifties before this tournament. He is the only Pakistani player, who is on the top of the ICC rankings in all three formats.
Pakistan may try their bench strength and Khushdil Shah and Shadab Khan can make way for Hasan Ali and Mohammad Hasnain, who was called into the side as a replacement for Shaheen. Hasnain is a young rising pacer, who has shown his potential.
Naseem Khan, who made his debut against India, was impressive and is likely to be retained barring an injury scare. Hasan Ali was dropped from the side because of his form but has been recalled in place of injured Mohammad Wasim. Ali can also be tested against Hong Kong. Shahnawaz Dahani can was wicket-less but showed some resistance with the bat which is likely to fetch him more chances. He has the potential to be an all-rounder if given adequate chances.
Batting will mostly revolve around top three Rizwan, Babar and Fakhar Zaman. Rauf and Iftikhar Ahmed are likely to consolidate the middle order while Dahani can chip in with some useful contribution down the order with a quick-fire cameo.