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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
India look team to beat
Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rahul Sharma
Pakistan skipper Inzamam chats to Hong Kong's Rahul Sharma
India and Pakistan will, for many people, be the centre of attention at the six-team Asia Cup after their thrilling series earlier this year.

The tournament starts in Sri Lanka on Friday with India taking on the UAE and Bangladesh facing Hong Kong.

India will start as favourites but Pakistan hope new coach Bob Woolmer will help them turn the tables.

And Sri Lanka cannot be discounted with spinner Muttiah Muralitharan back after missing the tour to Australia.

They are hoping to go one better after losing in the final to Pakistan by 39 runs when the Asia Cup was last played four years ago.

The hiatus was caused by a break in sporting relations between the Indian and Pakistani governments which was finally mended earlier this year.

"Hopefully all that is behind us," said Asian Cricket Council chief Ashraful Haq.

Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan
Muralitharan cannot use his banned 'doosra' delivery

"It augurs well for Asian cricket that cricket tours between India and Pakistan have resumed."

The two arch-rivals cannot meet until the second phase, having been put in separate first round groups.

But all eyes will be on them when they do come together following India's win in both the one-day and Test series in Pakistan in March and April.

There have been reports of a rift between Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq and fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and Woolmer's first task will be to try and unite his undoubtedly talented squad behind a common purpose.

Inzamam has insisted revenge over India is not on their minds, saying: "We are here to play competitive cricket and to win the tournament."

India, meanwhile, are refreshed after a three-month break and have the air of a team which believe they may be on the verge of becoming the dominant force in world cricket.

Strong in all departments and with off-spinner Harbhajan Singh back in action following a hand injury, they are the team to beat.

Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar
India's Sachin Tendulkar has made over 13,000 one-day runs

"The challenge is to get into rhythm early. We are anticipating tough matches," said coach John Wright.

Sri Lanka have home advantage but could be at a disadvantage coming straight to the competition from a Test series down under.

Their players, Muralitharan apart, have had precious little time to readjust to the demands of the one-day game ahead of Saturday's match against the UAE.

The two minnows in the competition have nothing to lose, with Hong Kong relishing the opportunity to play in a major tournament for the first time.

They are coached by Robin Singh, who played 136 one-day internationals for India, the last as recently as 2001.

He believes they have a half a chance against Bangladesh, who have only won once in the last five years.

"Playing cricket for your country, be it your country of adoption, is a big thing," said skipper Rahul Sharma.

UAE batsman Asim Saeed
UAE batsman Asim Saeed in the nets

Their 14-man squad includes there are seven Pakistani-born players, two Indians, a Nepalese national, two British, one Australian and one Chinese.

The UAE won three of their five matches at the ICC Six Nations Challenge earlier this year and are relatively strong in battying with a line-up headed by Syed Maqsood, Khuram Khan and Asim Saeed.

Singh believes left-arm spinner Ahmed Madeem could also have an important part to play.

"If he can hit the right line, the Sri Lankan wickets are bound to assist him," he said.

The Asia Cup final will take place in Colombo on 1 August.




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