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DUBAI: The Asia Cup begins on Saturday with top cricketers including Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and India superstar Virat Kohli in action in the United Arab Emirates.

AFP Sport picks five players to watch in the six-nation tournament, which is an important warm-up for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October.

Red-hot Azam

With key pace bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi out injured, Pakistan will depend heavily on Azam's blazing batting.

The 27-year-old leads the T20 and one-day batting rankings and comes into the tournament on the back of two big half-centuries in Pakistan's 3-0 ODI sweep of the Netherlands.

Pakistan fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi out of Asia Cup, England T20Is

He scored an unbeaten 68 as his side demolished India by 10 wickets in the last meeting between the arch-rivals in the 2021 T20 World Cup -- at the same venue where they meet this Sunday.

Cornered Kohli

Star batsman Virat Kohli will play in his 100th T20 international when India face Pakistan in their opener, having been rested from the recent tour of the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

The 33-year-old badly needs a big score.

He last hit an international century in November 2019 and is going through the worst phase of his otherwise stellar career.

Kohli, who has struck 27 centuries in 102 Tests since making his debut in 2011, has endured a torrid 12 months that also saw him replaced as national captain.

"He gets a fifty in the very first game, mouths will be shut for the rest of the tournament," said Ravi Shastri, the former India coach.

All-round Hasaranga

Wanindu Hasaranga made a strong impact with his leg-spin in this year's Indian Premier League, taking 26 wickets in 16 matches to raise his stock as an impact bowler.

Alongside fellow spinners Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffery Vandersay and Praveen Jayawickrama he will lead Sri Lanka's bowling charge on the UAE's spin-friendly slow pitches.

Hasaranga, 25, who did not play in The Hundred in England because Sri Lanka wanted him fresh for the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup, is also a handy lower-middle-order batsman.

Captain Shakib

Shakib Al Hasan has often courted controversy on and off the field but he remains Bangladesh's most consistent performer and returns to lead the team.

The star all-rounder was told to cut ties with a gambling portal to get back the captaincy of Bangladesh, who have won just two of their last 15 Twenty20 matches.

Asia Cup: Pakistan and India to clash in Dubai on August 28

The 35-year-old, a left-handed batsman and spinner, will play his 100th T20 international when Bangladesh open their Asia Cup campaign against Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Spin king Rashid

Rashid Khan will be Afghanistan's go-to bowler in the battle for the Asian crown with the leg-spinner going strong with 112 wickets in 66 T20 internationals.

The 23-year-old has been a big hit in global Twenty20 leagues, including the IPL and The Hundred, with his wicket-taking ability and attacking lower-order batting.

Rashid will be prime among the team's key players alongside skipper Mohammad Nabi and will share the spin duties with Mujeeb ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad.

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